It Sucks to Own a Food Truck

05/13/2013 2:35 PM |

Old School Food Truck

Last year, there was a big fight in Bay Ridge between restaurant owners and food-truck vendors. The people at Lonestar on Fifth Avenue were incensed by the presence of a halal cart down the block, on the corner of 86th Street; it got so bad that “someone” tore out public benches from across the street and bolted them in front of the food truck’s regular spot; that the brick-and-mortar side formed human chains to stop the truck from parking. The restaurant owners argued that the trucks were bad for businesses that paid rent and property taxes, undercutting them in a way that wasn’t fair. The kerfuffle turned neighbor against neighbor. Even the politicians got in on it: “How can a brick and mortar business owner—who is already paying a premium to rent a storefront on a main strip while covering business and property taxes, water bills and private sanitation—compete with a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ food cart?” the local councilmember asked. The local state senator blamed the food trucks for the closure of beloved local luncheonette/soda fountain Hinsch’s. Even the owner of Hinsch’s had to call bullshit on that.


Studies show that food trucks are not in competition with sit-down restaurants establishments—it’s fast food with which they’re in competition. (Which, good riddance.) And, in fact, it actually sucks to own a food cart. The Times Magazine reported this weekend that the reason there aren’t 25 Wafels & Dinges carts for every hot dog cart (in fact, it’s the other way around) is because “the business stinks.”

“It’s nearly impossible (even if you fill out the right paperwork) to operate a truck without breaking some law,” a councilmember told the magazine. And enforcement can be severe: “An Ecuadorean immigrant who sells kebabs in Bushwick [showed us] the six tickets that she and her husband received on a single afternoon. The total came to $2,850, which, she said, was much more than what she makes in a good week. She had a street-vendor’s license, she said, but didn’t understand that she also needed a separate permit for her cart.” (Did you know everyone on duty at a food cart needs health-department certification, whereas at a restaurant only one person on duty does?)

“At the rates things are going, in 10 years you’re going to have everybody selling stuff on the street and nobody paying property taxes,” the head of the 86th Street BID told Brooklyn Daily. Which is crazy. That’s not the way things are going at all. And that’s because, though it’s hard to own a brick-and-mortar business, it’s not because there are people with mobile businesses; those are also hard to own. Next time a restaurant owner tells you how much easier it is to have a food truck, ask them why they don’t just own a food truck then? Is it because of a patriotic urge to pay property taxes?

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart


2 Comment

  • One of the main reasons it’s hard to own a food truck is that the licenses cost almost nothing but most are owned by a handful of people who illegally rent them out at outrageous prices. It’s a business that needs cleaning up, in many senses of the word. For example, store owners must clean their sidewalks, but food trucks don’t have that duty. And many brick and mortar stores sell take out so they do compete.

  • Many restaurant owners see food trucks as a threat, which all humans are creatures of habit so it is understandable. But what they are failing to realize is that they are wasting precious time trying to fight the food trucks instead of working with them. Restaurant owners (especially those that serve alcohol and killer seating areas) could partner with 1-2 food trucks one night out the week and offer the community something that they cannot get anywhere else.

    For example, they could advertise a “special” of 1 food truck item and 1 beverage for a price customers cannot refuse-$10 bucks; it would be even better if some type of entertainment or theme for that night could also be implemented. This results in a win-win for both parties and allows the restaurant/food trucks to increase revenue all around.

    Due to the “gourmet food truck” industry’s recent expansion, some areas are still transitioning and food trucks are being punished. As a result these areas do not offer a ready-made plan for new and existing food truck operators to navigate the permit-licensing process and end up with tickets (the short end of the stick). It is very important to do your due diligence before opening a food truck in any area.