Allentown, PA: Are Lehigh Valley food trucks stuck in park?

A customer orders from The Taza Truck during Sands Bethlehem Event Center's first food truck and craft beer festival on Aug. 1, 2015. (Kelly McEwan | For lehighvalleylive.com)

By Kelly Huth  |  Lehigh Valley Live

A customer orders from The Taza Truck during Sands Bethlehem Event Center's first food truck and craft beer festival on Aug. 1, 2015. (Kelly McEwan | For lehighvalleylive.com)
A customer orders from The Taza Truck during Sands Bethlehem
Event Center’s first food truck and craft beer festival on Aug. 1, 2015.
(Kelly McEwan | For lehighvalleylive.com)

For anyone who’s toyed with the thought of starting their own food truck in the Lehigh Valley, there’s now an alliance of food trucks paving the way.

Rather than competing, the members of the Greater Lehigh Valley Mobile Food Alliance (GLVMFA) are collaborating. The GLVMFA has 15 trucks, with more on the way, according to board member Tracey Mathews.

Among their goals is to get more food trucks in the area and get them moving around the Lehigh Valley. They’re also hoping to introduce a food truck festival next spring.

The group wants to change the mindset about food trucks and they want to work with cities to create food pods where trucks could congregate.

“The biggest hurdle is ordinances,” says Hala Rihan-Bonner, a board member and co-owner of The Taza Truck.

Rihan-Bonner says each city has its own rules and food trucks need licenses and approvals from each municipality where they want to vend.

“The challenge is where do we go?” Rihan-Bonner asks.

An alliance

Alliance members have all been there, done that. Part of their mission is to help new trucks find spots to vend.

The caveat is a food truck would need approvals from property owners and necessary permits. In some spaces, they’d need approval from the historic board. They’d need to comply with parking regulations and vehicle codes, and may need a fire department permit depending on the cooking method, Dorner says. And the city has to review the truck and equipment.

“We’re not looking to pull up on Main Street, Bethlehem,” Rihan-Bonner says, adding the alliance tries to identify food deserts.

Allentown has laid out areas of the city where motorized vendors cannot be, including: residential neighborhoods, in metered or time-restricted areas, in city parks, or city-controlled properties, within 100 yards of a school or within 50 feet of a restaurant.

Still, Allentown has four licensed food trucks and others pending, according to city spokesman Mike Moore.

Furthering the cause

Part of what the alliance feels it’s up against is changing misconceptions.

Rihan-Bonner says some believe food trucks aren’t inspected like restaurants.

“Every time a food truck goes to a new city, festival, we are inspected,” Rihan-Bonner says, adding it’s almost monthly.

And for each festival, there’s often an additional fee or a percentage taken from profits. For an event to be viable, Bonner says they’d like to see 50-100 sales in a three to four-hour period.

The Institute of Justice — it has become a legal advocate for food trucks around the East Coast — has done studies to dispel the notion that food trucks compete with brick-and-mortar businesses, Bonner says.

Instead, Bonner says studies show foot traffic often increases to neighboring brick-and-mortar businesses because food trucks can only make so much food and customers spill into other businesses.

“It’s provided actual data that a mobile food culture ingrained in a community benefits everyone,” Caldwell adds.

Caldwell wants to see harmony between restaurant owners and food truck owners.

Bonner notes cities are becoming more open to the food truck business model.

“We want to partner with cities,” Bonner says.

For more information, visit lehighvalleymobilefood.org.

http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/food/index.ssf/2015/08/are_lehigh_valley_food_trucks.html