Harrisburg, PA: Mobile Food Vendors Have Eateries Steamed on Restaurant Row

EZ-Eatz food truck operator Angela Klobusicky prepares an order. ANDY COLWELL, The Patriot-News

By SUE GLEITER | The Patriot-News

EZ-Eatz food truck operator Angela Klobusicky prepares an order. ANDY COLWELL, The Patriot-News

A food fight has erupted along Harrisburg’s Restaurant Row.

Some Second Street restaurant owners say they want hot dog carts and other mobile food vendors off their turf. They say portable vendors are capitalizing on the city’s downtown nightlife and cutting into their profits.

Eric Roman, owner of 2nd Street Pizza, said he’s losing between $700 and $1,000 in pizza sales every weekend when the vendors are out in full force. He said he was forced to lay off one employee because of the drop in business.

“The concern we have is we pay rent, mortgages and taxes. These vendors are not paying this. It’s easy for them to say ‘Business is terrible. Let me take my cart somewhere else.’ I can’t, in a blink of an eye, say ‘Today I’m closing my pizza shop and moving to the Carlisle Pike,’ ” Roman said.

He and about 15 other city restaurant owners signed a petition that was presented this week to the Harrisburg City Council. The business owners said they would like to see the vendors out of the city.

“They only come in town on the biggest nights and whatever they get, that’s money we don’t receive. That’s money that could be spent by patrons in our places,” said Daniel Farias, owner of Arepa City Latin Eatery.

He said he has seen as many as five or six vendors out on weekend nights.

Angela Klobusicky, owner of the EZ Eatz mobile food truck, said all is fair in the world of food sales. Vendors have been permitted to sell on the city streets for a long time, she said.

She opened the food truck on New Year’s Eve and parks it along Second Street on weekend nights.

After-hours bargoers fuel up on cheesesteaks, burgers, pulled-pork barbecue sandwiches, grilled cheese and the $9 Fat Bastard, a cheeseburger with bacon between two grilled cheese sandwiches.

During the day, EZ Eatz pulls into a metered parking space in front of the Hilton Harrisburg. Dauphin County employees, sheriffs and state workers line up over lunch.

“It’s convenient, and when I’m in a rush and don’t have lunch at work I can come here,” said Lauren Manelius of Manor Twp. in Lancaster County, who works across the street at the Bravo Group.

She doesn’t see what the big deal is over the food truck.

“This is the beauty of competition. This is a new choice and if people are going to chose to eat here, well then great,” Manelius said.

Zembie’s Sports Tavern owner Angelo Karagiannis said he doesn’t mind hot dog vendors, as long as they have the proper permits and clean up after themselves. But he questions EZ Eatz occupying a space along a city street.

“Why is the city allowing someone to open up shop at a parking meter,” he said.

Harrisburg spokesman Robert J. Philbin said EZ Eatz is not violating any codes and is permitted to be on Second Street. In Harrisburg, vendors must obtain a health license and a mercantile license, and then they are free to roam, but only in spots where they can reach agreements with property owners.

Klobusicky said she has permission from the Hilton and worked with the Harrisburg police to find an appropriate place for her truck. Food trucks are booming in other parts of the country, selling everything from tacos to Taiwanese food.

Daytime hot dogger Daniel Krehling, who operates across the street from EZ Eatz at the Dauphin County administration building, doesn’t mind the competition. He has operated his cart there for 14 years.

“I don’t care. It’s free enterprise, and it adds different variety,” he said. “I wish them the best.”

The food wars won’t let up anytime soon. Harrisburg Council President Gloria Martin-Roberts said Tuesday night the council will further discuss the issue at an administrative committee meeting. In addition, the city will look at how mobile food vendors operate in other cities.

Roman said he has nothing against Klobusicky but would like the city to take action.

“This is one truck. If the city is giving the idea this is fine, this is legal, the next thing you know you are going to see another truck come in,” Roman said.

This is not the first time portable food vendors in the city have sparred with restaurant owners.

About a decade ago, a hot dog war ensued on Second Street as vendors jousted over prime space in front of Harrisburg’s River Street parking garage.

Restaurant owners and others started a crusade to get rid of the nighttime hot dog vendors, saying they detracted from the sophisticated atmosphere city officials and downtown businesses were trying to create at the time and undercut established businesses.

This time around, Klobusicky said, EZ Eatz is not meant to hurt anyone’s business.

“I’d like to see everyone do well. I think there is more than enough room for everyone here,” she said.