For those who’ve been enjoying the tasty treats served curbside at the monthly Food Truck Rally in Grand Army Plaza, you may want to savor that last bite tomorrow. Local restaurant owners and residents around the city are increasingly joining forces to remove food trucks from popular city sites.
“I’m furious about the food truck rally in the park,” said Irene LoRe, owner of Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant and Executive Director of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District. “Why don’t they do ‘A Taste of Park Slope’ or ‘A Taste of Fulton Street’? I’m furious that the city is supporting the food trucks over the brick-and-mortar businesses that are struggling to survive.”
The Fifth Avenue BID runs from 18th Street to Dean Street. In those 30 blocks, there are more than 100 food establishments, restaurants, cafes and luncheonettes.
“We pay high rents because we’re considered one of the hottest neighborhoods in New York,” said LoRe. “It is totally unfair that The Van Leeuwen truck rolls up to Carroll Street during peak hours on the weekend across the street from Trois Pommes Patisserie, which makes its own lovely homemade ice cream.”
Meanwhile, VanLeeuwen co-owner and founder Laura O’Neill had an entirely different take.
“We don’t park in Park Slope that often anymore,” O’Neill said. “I don’t think we’re one of the trucks stepping on the toes of the brick-and-mortar. But having both [Van Leeuwen] trucks and brick-and-mortar shops ourselves now, I will say that there’s a misconception that trucks don’t have any overhead and that it’s not as complicated. There are a lot of pros and cons to serving ice cream from a truck. In comparison, our shops are a much simpler operation.”
Now in their fourth summer, O’Neill said finding places to park involves a lot of trial and error, but they make an effort to ensure there aren’t competing businesses nearby.
“We make a product truly different from anything else in the city,” she said. “So it’s not often that that would happen anyway.”
When told that she had parked by a local bakery that offers homemade ice cream, O’Neill was less generous:
“Well, we do all of our own pastries as well,” she said. “I think New York is a very big city and there’s room for everyone.”
All of this begs the question: Is zoning needed?
“It’s ironic that this food-truck trend has become so popular in neighborhoods where issues involving vehicular congestion are typically on most people’s short list of concerns,” said Craig Hammerman, District Manager for Brooklyn Community Board 6. “But food trucks seem to have found a market niche and seem to present a new form of competition for established brick-and-mortar businesses.”
Government and the marketplace, he said, will ultimately determine if a new form of regulation is warranted for the food trucks.
Park Slope Civic Council President Michael Cairl said that the council had not yet taken a position on the issue.
Some residents in other parts of the city have had food trucks removed from certain blocks, claiming noise violations, environmental concerns, destruction of quality of life and harming local economies by not having to pay rent like the restaurants.
At the same time, food trucks have legions of fans willing to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. And many locals, it seems, don’t see the difference between frequenting a cafe with walls versus a cafe on wheels.
“The trucks are a solid, sustainable option for foodie start-ups who don’t want to risk the investment of opening a restaurant in an economy where small businesses are struggling to stay open,” observed 15th Street resident Tracy Eisenberg.
Plus, they have the cool factor.
“I admire the entrepreneurship and creativity of the food trucks. But we have that too,” LoRe said. “If you go into the city, there are places like Wall Street where you can’t eat anything for less than a million dollars. We’re part of a neighborhood strip that’s struggling for survival. Go park where there aren’t affordable options available. It has a place.”
Gelf Magazine, based in Brooklyn, would like to start a dialogue between residents, food truck owners and local restaurant owners to see if the three may coexist in peace. A panel discussion will be held Tuesday, August 23 at Tea Lounge beginning at 7:30 p.m.
“Is there a way for food trucks, which are creating some of the city’s tastiest (and cheapest) new food, to thrive within existing city infrastructure?” asked Adam Rosen of Gelf, who will be moderating the event.
Panel speakers will include David Weber of the NYC Food Trucks Association and owner of the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck (and Bar); Kate Collignon, NYU professor of urban planning and principal at HR&A Advisors; and Irene LoRe of the Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID and owner of Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant.