Alburquerque, NM: In Albuquerque, Restaurants and Food Trucks Mix Uneasily

By Dan McKay |

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — Art Alexander’s rule is simple: Get there first, and the spot is yours.

Such is life running a food truck in Albuquerque, where vendors can, for the most part, set up anywhere but private property.

On a recent weeknight, Alexander had a great spot — just a few feet away from the entrance to Tractor Brewing in Nob Hill. And he wasn’t interested in hearing any complaints about it from other vendors.

“That’s just the way the ball rolls,” Alexander said. “I’m a businessman.”

In any case, Alexander said he was invited to set up shop there, because Tractor doesn’t sell food.

But the relationship between food trucks and their neighbors isn’t always so friendly. Some business owners say it’s time to consider new rules restricting where the trucks can set up.

In the heart of Downtown, at least one restaurant says it now closes early because a hotdog vendor kept setting up right in front of the entrance, making it hard for people to see that the place was open.

The vendor “put us out of business at night,” said Nick Manole, whose wife, Asimina, owns Fresh Choices. “We’re small-business people paying high rents and trying to make it. It’s unfair competition for us.”

City Councilor Isaac Benton said he hopes restaurants and food-truck owners can work out a voluntary code of conduct. If not, he’s willing to consider legislation, such as a prohibition on mobile vendors setting up in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“There is the need to support our existing businesses who have made a huge investment — a much bigger investment than a food truck has,” Benton said. “I love food trucks. Don’t get me wrong. (But) it does need to be fair to existing, permanent businesses that serve food.”

Art Alexander checks the grill he tows behind his food truck.

James Trump Jr., a developer who owns land in Nob Hill, said city regulations for food trucks need an update. One possibility is requiring the trucks to plug into a power source, rather than run a noisy generator, he said.

But he says the food trucks in Nob Hill contribute positively to the pedestrian environment.

“There is no effort to get rid of the food trucks,” Trump said. “Everyone sees (them) as an asset.”

Adrian Carver, a member of the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association board, said the relationship between places like Tractor and food vendors benefits both businesses, he said.

“I think food trucks are a vibrant part of the culture” in Nob Hill, Carver said.

Robert Munro, part-owner of O’Niell’s Irish Pub, said some people worry about food trucks contributing to the parking crunch in Nob Hill. A discussion on the topic is in order, he said.

“I would have grave concern if my parking were affected by food trucks sitting directly in front of my place of business without any sort of method to control that,” he said.

Patrick Humpf, whose food truck “Gedunk” specializes in gourmet macaroni and cheese, said vendors already face restrictions. They are limited to commercial areas and must abide by parking laws, he said.

As for the concern about taking someone else’s customers, Humpf said: “In my opinion, no one place owns a customer. You can win a customer’s loyalty, but you don’t own them and therefore they can’t be stolen.”

Joanie & Art’s Bar-B-Que food truck serves customers outside Tractor Brewing on Tulane SE.

Manole, on the other hand, said food trucks can damage a restaurant. Fresh Choices, he said, used to stay open until 8 or 9 at night, and the mobile vendors would show up later to serve the bar crowd.

Then, the vendors started arriving earlier and earlier, essentially blocking the restaurant from view.

“They don’t pay rent,” he said. “They don’t pay utilities like we do, and they get to use the sidewalk for free where we have to pay a fee to the city for outdoor (seating). They just muscled their way into there.”

Alexander, who offers barbecue, said establishing a food truck isn’t as cheap as people might think. He estimated it would cost $30,000 to $50,000 to buy and equip a van similar to his.

“I’m still paying for it — believe me,” he said.

Alexander, who said he’s been in the catering business for 38 years, doesn’t see all that much difference between mobile vendors and traditional restaurants.

“I get my license just like they do,” he said. “I get my inspections just like they do.”

Alexander said some limits might be beneficial. There was “chaos” recently when seven food trucks set up in the same location, he said.

He’s open to cooperation. On a recent weeknight, he noted that an Arby’s was nearby and that he wouldn’t sell similar food.

“I can make a mean roast beef sandwich,” he said. “I know they sell them. Mine is better, but I don’t do it.”