The city-wide question of where food trucks should operate and under what rules is reaching a fever pitch in Wynwood, just as the next Second Saturday Art Walk approaches.
On the one side is property owner David Lombardi and several gallery owners who want to regulate where food trucks can park, especially during the popular Second Saturday event. On the other is influential food truck operator Jack Garabedian, owner of the Jefe’s Original truck. He believes Lombardi is trying to corral the food trucks onto his lot so he can make money off the fee he charges trucks who use his space ($35 on regular nights, $75 on Second Saturdays).
Lombardi owns a lot of NW 2nd Ave that food trucks can use for a fee. He would prefer that the trucks park there instead of on the street, where some businesses have complained that the trucks block the sidewalk, crowd their entrances, and leave a mess at the end of the night.
The issue came to the forefront after last month’s Second Saturday, when Lombardi sent an email out to the Wynwood Art District Association, which is largely made up of gallery owners, telling them that if they have a problem with trucks parking in front of their business, they should contact city code enforcement.
Garabedian got wind of the letter, and on this past Saturday, March 5, he sent a reply to media and city officials, alleging that ““Mr Lombardi is trying to monopolize where the food trucks park, only on his property since he owns most of it,” and that, “Most all the Gallery owners embrace the food trucks.”
ADDING IT UP
Needless to say, Lombardi sees it differently.
“I can assure you I’m not in this to make money,” he said in a phone interview. “I’m in this to create a community that’s vibrant every weekend and not just one weekend a month.”
Lombardi says that when you add up all his costs, he doesn’t make money off the fee he charges food trucks, especially when it’s only $35.
These are the figures he cites: $80 to pay his maintenance man to empty trash through the night, $150 for the DJ, $400 a month for the porta-potties, and another $400 for the dumpster, not to mention the $3,000 he spent to build heavy duty picnic tables, and other costs like taxes and insurance.
He said the idea to use the lot for food trucks came about after last year’s Art Basel.
“We got tremendous fallout and flack from all the neighbors that the gallery night had become like a street carnival,” he said. “The galley owner want to appear as highbrow, most of them, and they felt that these trucks, blocking their entrances, spewing smoke into the street.. this atmosphere was totally against what they bought into as a serious art district.”
Garabedian’s email included an email he received from Wynwood resident and photographer Sid Hoeltzell, who supports the food trucks parking on the street.
Hoeltzell wasn’t happy to learn that an email he thought was private had been blasted out to media and about a dozen city officials, (he took Garabedian to task for that in another email) but he still thinks the food trucks shouldn’t have to stay on Lombardi’s lot.
“I don’t see any problem with them being in the street, as long as they keep stuff clean,” he said.
“It’s all part of the flavor of it. If it’s a carnival atmosphere, fine, you’re still generating a lot of traffic in here, which is what we need.”
Jim Heins, one one of the pioneers of food trucks in Miami and the owner of the Latin Burger truck, comes down in the middle.
He’s grateful to Lombardi for setting up the lot.
“He’s a great guy,” Heins said. “He’s trying to revitalize the Wynwood area and he’s done a great job. I don’t see why he should come out of pocket for guys that are profiting off his property.”
But he also thinks that the trucks should be able to park on the street, provided they have the blessing of the rent-paying businesses they are in front of.
“I believe 100% they should respect the businesses,” he said. “It would be like coming over to dinner to a house when you’re not invited. Why would you go?”
However, that approach doesn’t solve all the dilemmas the food trucks present. What if a coffee truck parks down the street from one of the new cafes that are tying to open? Can the cafe object? What about a case where a food truck parks down the street from a restaurant? Is that allowed and who decides?
Lombardi thinks that these are questions that the city and state will answer in due time.
“It is really a great problem to have in retrospect because just a few years ago there was certainly not enough traffic or interest for food trucks or all the others who now wish to participate in Wynwood,” he wrote in an email. “I would suppose if they are invited by a store owner to park out front of their particular space then I would not have a problem with it. But again, if it is adjacent to a restaurant that has invested a large amount of money to build and license and lease then I would certainly understand it if they opposed it. I think at the end of the day, the city or state laws should define what they can or cannot do.”