NYC: Officials Look to Regulate Food Trucks

Ayelet Pearl / Spectator Staff Photographer

By Casey Tolan | Columbia Daily Spectator

Ayelet Pearl / Spectator Staff Photographer

CB7 members will conduct the survey over the next three weeks, recording whether food trucks, food carts, and fruit stands are complying with regulations, directly competing with restaurants, or, in the case of trucks, emitting fumes or noise.

Food trucks and carts are facing greater scrutiny from local officials—a move local vendors are calling unnecessary.

Members of Community Board 7 will begin a street-by-street survey of Upper West Side street food vendors on Friday, and City Council member Gale Brewer introduced new legislation last month to track the number of permits allotted to food vendors city-wide.

CB7 members will conduct the survey over the next three weeks, recording whether food trucks, food carts, and fruit stands are complying with regulations, directly competing with restaurants, or, in the case of trucks, emitting fumes or noise.

“The idea is to get an accounting of what we have and where it is,” Andrew Albert, co-chair of the CB7 transportation committee, said. “We’re not trying to kill them—we just want an idea of what we have and how we can make it best serve the neighborhood.”

Tasty but smelly
Despite food trucks’ popularity, some local residents are concerned with the noise and fumes the trucks emit and the parking spaces they take up, Albert said.

Brewer’s legislation, introduced in the City Council last month, requires the city’s Department of Health to differentiate between permits given to food carts, which tend to be more neighborhood-based, and those given to food trucks, which are motor vehicles.

Brewer, who represents the Upper West Side, said the distinction is important because she’s been receiving complaints from constituents about trucks, especially regarding their fumes.

“If you live above a truck that has a generator or is cooking, people do complain,” Brewer said. “People like the trucks to eat from but don’t want to hear them or smell them if they live above them.”

CB7’s transportation committee has also recently fielded a lot of complaints from Upper West Side residents about the vendors being “disgusting or smelly,” Albert said.

Andy Chang, human resources manager and partner at Korilla, which was serving long lines of customers on Amsterdam Avenue between 116th and 117th streets Wednesday night, said that wasn’t true for his business.

“If anything, our truck sends out a good aroma,” he said. “It’s barbecue—you can’t make anything that smells bad.”

Officials also worry about the competition that food trucks present to brick-and-mortar businesses.

“The restaurant is paying big rent dollars, big taxes, and to have an unfair competitor in front of them who’s paying no rent is a bit one-sided,” Albert said.

Chang disagreed. “If your product was good enough, people would go there,” he said. “The reason they come to us instead of you is that our food’s better than yours—not to sound cocky.”

Nick Brnjos, an employee at Healthy Bites NYC food cart at 115th Street and Broadway, said that he worried that officials were biased toward restaurants.

“They want to cancel us because the restaurants complain about us,” Brnjos said. “They think we’re stealing their customers … but in my opinion, we’re cheaper and faster.”

Brewer said that she has nothing against the carts, and her legislation was the first step in “a larger discussion” about food trucks that could lead to new laws and regulations, like implementing a grade rating similar to that used for restaurants or creating special zones of the city in which trucks are allowed to operate.

“Some trucks are fine, have no violations, but the people are still complaining about them,” Brewer said.

Albert agreed that the Council should pass new regulations.

“We have to have different laws,” he said. “As it is now, the Department of Health knows they’ve given the OK to a food truck, but they have no idea where it is. … When you approve something, you should have to put down a proposed location.”

An ‘explosion’ of trucks
The issue has increased in importance as the food truck business has grown exponentially in recent years. Brewer said that when she first brought up her constituents’ concerns with city agencies in 2009, “they had never even heard of the issue.”

“We obviously have a lot of history of many, many carts in our district, and I’ve always loved them and my neighbors and my constituents do,” Brewer said—but she isn’t as big a fan of trucks.

When they first became popular, food trucks were individually owned and stayed in non-residential areas of the city like Midtown, she said, but now, many trucks have morphed into franchises and migrated to residential areas like the Upper West Side.

“There’s been an explosion of these trucks and carts,” Albert said. Due to a “crackdown” on vendors in Midtown, Albert said he thought it was likely food trucks had moved to the Upper West Side to escape tougher enforcement of the laws, which include prohibitions against continually plugging a parking meter and operating too close to residential entrances.

“There doesn’t seem to be as much enforcement here,” Albert said. “Enforcement is paramount.”

Chang said that his focus was on food, not politics—which he called “a little bit of a headache.” Korilla operates three trucks and employs 25 people, and Chang said they were looking to expand into physical restaurants in the future.

“The industry is booming,” he said. “We’re sitting on top of each other fighting for spots” with other food trucks.

Chris Moffett, a Teachers College student at Korilla for dinner Wednesday night, said he’s all for the food trucks.

“It’s interesting to see so many new ones sprouting up,” Moffett said. “It’s a creative new venue for thinking about food.”