Food Trucks in Maplewood: Council Member Says Events Might be the Right Place

Could food trucks be in Maplewood's future? Credit Doug Miner

By Doug Miner | PATCH

Could food trucks be in Maplewood’s future? Credit Doug Miner

Barry Greenberg said food trucks can work in the right place and time. He said it’s not a black and white issue.

The Maplewood City Council discussed food trucks at its last meeting, June 12.

No vote was taken, but the consensus of those present (Shawn Faulkingham was absent) seemed to be against allowing food trucks in Maplewood.

Several St. Louis media outlets reported on the meeting.

Council member Barry Greenberg prepared a comment for one of those outlets, but the article published without it. Greenburg offered it to Patch, so below is his comments on the pros and cons, and how food trucks might work in Maplewood.

Here is Greenberg’s statement:

The advantages of the food truck concept is that offer a break from the normal routine, and they can be fun. They can also offer variety, food that might not be available in immediate area. Whether food trucks should be allowed in Maplewood is not a black or white question, but a nuanced issue where solving one problem can result in the creation of other problems. Food trucks can work, given the right place and the right time. It obviously works in other neighborhoods, so the question is why wouldn’t it work for Maplewood.

Each community is unique and has its own characteristics. We have a fairly small and compact central business district. We have a great distribution of eclectic and mainstream eating and drinking establishments in Maplewood. These restaurants are owned and operated by individuals that have made a commitment to our community by investing in building out a brick and mortar facility, paying sales and property taxes, and being open for more than lunch hour. Any restaurant these days needs to make a profit whenever they are open and lunch is a very competitive time slot.

Lunchtime diners are driven by convenience, by cost, and by a pleasurable dining experience. Maplewood has prospered based on its emphasis as a pedestrian oriented community. The existing restaurants do a good job of capturing the local lunchtime diner with good food, eclectic ambience, a variety of choices that allow for people to make a last minute selection.

The people that work in the downtown Maplewood area are the primary restaurant patrons. Our restaurants would have a difficult time surviving on Maplewood residents and daytime workers alone, but we are able to attract a significant number of diners from other communities due to the abundance of free and convenient parking. You don’t have to spend your lunch hour looking for a parking space and then spend the equivalent of the cost of your drink for the privilege of parking your vehicle. Our central location allows us to draw customers from neighboring communities who may not have the variety or quality of food choices that Maplewood provides.

In order for food trucks to work for Maplewood, they need a location to operate from a location that doesn’t cause parking and safety issues, but most of all, does not cannibalize customers from our established, permanent restaurants. The only way for that to happen is to draw a significant number of additional customers from other areas to a location within easy walking distance to our existing restaurants. When food trucks are by nature a destination business, I have concerns about diners driving to our community for the sole purpose of eating at a food truck and then changing their mind to eat at a different venue.

Our restaurants have a symbiotic relationship with our retail stores. The lunchtime diner is many times a retail customer and this is an essential component of experiencing Maplewood in the middle of the day. We have stores, such as Penzey’s, Vom Fass, Kakao, and Cheryl’s Herbs that are somewhat exclusive to our downtown. It makes it easier to shop when you can park the car and walk to lunch in close proximity to each other.  How would we attract a new business, like Pie Oh My (which will be coming soon)to a building in Maplewood when we allow a truck purveying baked goods to park close by?

Historically, new restaurants in Maplewood have been warmly welcomed by the existing restaurants, because they know that that investment in the community will benefit everyone. They support each other throughout the day and evening. Food trucks don’t make that type of investment in the community. They show up only when and where they can make a profit, for that is the nature of the mobile food experience. They do not have to provide seating, nor bathroom facilities or other amenities that brick and mortar restaurants do.

Conversely, they can provide a valuable service to those areas that do not have a vibrant and thriving dining infrastructure. Many people view food trucks as an event driven phenomenon, and that is how I see food trucks best fitting into our community. Our monthly MCBF concert series, or high school athletic events might be the proper venues to facilitate food trucks with a portion of the receipts going to the Chamber or MRH school district.