By Brian Meyer | BuffaloNews.com
Executives from some of the region’s largest locally owned fast-food restaurants persuaded the Common Council on Thursday to delay plans to pass Buffalo’s first roving food-truck law.
Officials from Just Pizza, Jim’s Steakout and Elmwood Taco & Subs passionately argued that the proposed law needs more review and public dialogue. They suggested forming a committee to study new provisions.
Over an objection from North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr., the bill’s sponsor, the Council voted at a special session to table action until after the summer recess.
The city currently has no law to regulate roaming trucks that prepare and sell food. Bill supporters insist that the new law would protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants by regulating mobile food trucks, including a provision that would ban them from operating within 100 feet of an open food establishment.
But some restaurant owners worry that the law would be an invitation for irresponsible roving chefs to unfairly compete with bricks-and-mortar establishments.
“This could open the door for cowboys to start coming in this town,” warned Mark D. Campanella, vice president of marketing and franchise development for Just Pizza. “It could be just a scene out of the wild, wild west.”
At a lengthy hearing in City Hall, some mobile food truck operators stressed that they operate responsibly.
“I have no desire to sit in front of somebody’s place and take down their business,” said Kathleen Haggerty, whose rolling kitchen, the Whole Hog, serves a variety of pork dishes.
Peter V. Cimino, co-owner of Lloyd the taco truck, said it’s all about giving customers additional choices. He said it would be unfortunate if the city embraced a “protectionist” policy. “Let the best taco win,” he told lawmakers.
Some speakers noted that the mobile food-truck industry has dramatically expanded in other cities. “It would be horrible at this time to stifle innovation, especially in a city where we should be welcoming businesses,” Cimino said.
But the president of Elmwood Taco & Subs said the city must protect restaurants that pay substantial taxes, deal with high overhead and operate year-round. Ronald A. Lucchino added that unlike food trucks, restaurants also must comply with stringent regulations that range from signs to canopies.
Lucchino, who has been in business for 36 years, said there are already too many empty storefronts on some commercial strips. “They’re barely making a living, these restaurants,” he said.
Allowing food trucks to operate at special events, in parks and in certain other venues is fine, Lucchino said, adding that his business operates such a truck.
But some restaurateurs object to allowing food trucks to operate within 100 feet of their storefronts.
“We’re very much against these trucks being anywhere near our business,” said Guy Macon, director of operations for the Jim’s Steakout chain.
Some believe that the trucks should be barred from operating within 500 feet of any open restaurant. Cimino said such a restriction would essentially ban roving chefs from areas like the Elmwood strip.
Golombek argued that because food trucks are currently unregulated in the city, a new law that spells out provisions would protect restaurants. He said currently there is nothing stopping trucks from setting up right outside eating establishments. Taki’s restaurant on Court Street complained to city officials that a food truck has been operating less than 50 feet from the front of the restaurant.
Golombek said the pilot project also would limit the number of food trucks to perhaps no more than six or eight so the city can assess their impact. Under Golombek’s bill, city officials would revisit the regulations next year.
But other lawmakers decided they need more time to review the proposed regulations. Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen voiced confidence that a bill can be crafted that addresses the needs of both types of food operations.
“We can all play in the sandbox together, as long as the rules are there to protect both sides,” Pridgen said.