Food Trucks Given Limited Access to Customer

Alex and Maribeth del Castillo serve creative tacos from their Taceaux Loceaux truck. Photo by Cheryl Gerber
Alex and Maribeth del Castillo serve creative tacos from their Taceaux Loceaux truck. Photo by Cheryl Gerber

When restaurants around Lyons and Prytania Streets in Uptown close for business, the Taceaux Loceaux food truck takes over. Popping into areas where there are dive bars with no kitchens, it goes anywhere where it’s needed, except the commercially sought-after locations in the city.

“That’s the place where restaurant owners really have a problem with food truck owners,” Del Castillo said. “I’m an Uptown kind of guy.”

As a mobile food vendor in New Orleans, Del Castillo, cannot park his truck within 600 feet of any restaurant or within two blocks of a school during operating hours or he could face up to a $500 penalty.

“I really don’t like to make trouble,” Del Castillo said. “We go where we’re wanted.”

In New Orleans, where the hospitality and tourism industries are king, mobile food vendors face additional challenges when it comes to selling food to passers-by.

During a trip to New York City, Keshawn Webster and his family had cupcakes from a food truck. “I had about three of them,” he said “They were really good.” Soon he decided to start his own business in New Orleans, called Cupcake and Company.

One day while operating his turquoise and brown truck, he discovered that food trucks are not allowed near a restaurant.

“It’s really challenging in a city like New Orleans,” said Webster, who also runs a nonprofit that assists youth and families. “Especially when you have eateries on every block.”

Webster has since suspended operation, with the exception of the occasional party, and begun construction on a Cupcake and Company store on Poydras Avenue. He is now focused on lobbying the New Orleans City Council to have the 600-foot restriction for food trucks reduced.

Recently, Webster made a presentation on food trucks to the city’s Economic Development Committee, using a study by the Urban Vitality Group to bolster his argument for food trucks.

“The council seemed won over just by the presentation,” he said.

The city, however, is faced with maintaining a balance between New Orleans’ traditional restaurants and the burgeoning street food culture.

“Six hundred feet may not be appropriate,” said Councilman Jon Johnson, who leads the Economic Development Committee. “But I will come into the discussion with an open mind.”

Johnson said the city needs to define the number of food trucks allowed on the streets at one time and where exactly they should be allowed to park. Until then, he said, the mobile food vendors should convince the Louisiana Restaurant Association, which represents several restaurants in the state, that food trucks should be a part of their industry.

“I think the key for them is to get the Louisiana Restaurant Association to buy into the program,” Johnson said. “They will make our decision much easier.”

Erica Papillion, a spokeswoman for the association, said that if food trucks were to join, they would be welcomed.

“We see the food trucks as a steppingstone to open a traditional brick and mortar restaurant,” Papillion said.

After investing around $12,000 in a food truck, Aijalon Daste and Juba Mwendo filed the necessary paperwork to obtain a permit. In a matter of minutes, the money they spent was made worthless when they were denied because the city had already allocated the maximum amount of permits for the year. Daste said the limit was reached, in part, because of the high number of seasonal permits for Mardi Gras and Jazzfest.

“I get mad thinking about it,” Daste said. “We are under the impression that the city doesn’t want mobile vendors [as] a part of the industry in the city.”

Daste and his business partner, Mwendo, said the city doesn’t have an excess of food trucks on the streets and it should revise their permit system.

“There are some cities that have embraced this food culture,” Mwendo said. “If any city should be ahead, it’s New Orleans.”

In Baton Rouge, La., food trucks gather weekly at the Zeeland Street Market for an event called Wednesday Wroundup, where local food trucks meet. Cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Portland have also welcomed the mobile food culture.

“I don’t think a healthy dose of competition is bad at all,” Daste said. “We’re in competition to get those people who can walk into [the] air-conditioned restaurants.”