Fresno, CA: Let’s Resolve the Dusty Buns Dust-Up

Dustin Stewart and wife Kristin own and operate the "bistro bus" called Dusty Buns. MARK CROSSE / THE FRESNO BEE

By Mike Osegueda | The Fresno Bee

Dustin Stewart and wife Kristin own and operate the "bistro bus" called Dusty Buns. MARK CROSSE / THE FRESNO BEE

In you weren’t paying close attention these past few months, you may have missed the way Dusty Buns and its “bistro bus” rolled into town and introduced Fresno to what gourmet food truck culture is all about.

It’s a bona fide trend that has inspired Food Network TV shows and has people in bigger cities lining up to eat rather than sitting down.

No, no, this is not about so-called “roach coaches.” It’s about gourmet food coming out of the types of trucks from which tacos have long been served

Quickly, Dusty Buns, thanks to its signature sandwiches, became the No. 1-rated local eatery on Yelp, and started to draw big lines. It would set up at private events and has weekly stops such as the Wednesday farmer’s market at Kaiser Permanente.

But its most popular stop has been Thursday nights along Wishon Row, the burgeoning Tower District business cluster that Twee and Cafe Corazon also call home. They dubbed the event, “It’s On Wishon.”

Some nights Dusty Buns’ California cuisine — made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients by chefs Dustin and Kristin Stewart, both graduates of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco — was in such demand that you’d have to wait 45 minutes.

The success seemed like a win all around — for Dusty Buns, which was trying to bring a new type of food culture to town; for local foodies, who think the food is quite yummy; and for the city, which could always use help in the “cool stuff” department.

Then last week, controversy arose. The city of Fresno, spurred by complaints from local restaurants, dinged Dusty Buns for breaking code and ordered it to stay off city streets. Current rules allow mobile food vendors to stay 15 minutes at a location — or until everyone in line has received their order. Private parking lots, like at Kaiser, were still OK.

What followed was an example of citizenship and government in action.

Petitions were signed by Dusty Buns fans. A grassroots “Save Dusty Buns, and the Future of Fresno Food Trucks” Facebook page got more than 200 people following it the day it started. It now has more than 400.

Meanwhile, Dusty Buns was meeting with city officials to find a compromise, researching how mobile food trucks survive in other cities.

All of it led to a statement by City Manager Mark Scott on Tuesday.

He said: “Dusty Buns may continue its normal operations while the City researches the issue. We want to find a way to support entrepreneurial urban activity while addressing the concerns raised by existing establishments.”

Just as the gourmet food truck culture has boomed in other cities, it’s also come with turf wars. Brick-and-mortar restaurants feel threatened by food trucks. It’s happened in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and now, Fresno.

This comes at a time when Fresno is trying to better establish its own food culture. See, for example, last week’s Fresno Food Expo, which was dedicated to showcasing all the yummy stuff our area produces.

As an agriculture epicenter, we should be doing adventurous things with food. We should be on the cutting edge when it comes to things like food trucks.

And, of course, Fresno is often hungry — pun definitely intended — for what’s trendy in big cities.

All these reasons underscore why it’s important that the city find a way for these gourmet restaurants on wheels to co-exist with some of the great local restaurants we already have.

If the existing restaurants have to step up their game to compete with Dusty Buns, isn’t that a good thing?

Whatever codes we have in place were written in an era that pre-dated the food truck boom. So why tether ourselves to old rules? Here’s a chance to be pro- active about growing our food culture, and making our city a little cooler in the process.

If we have no problem with chain restaurants sprawling out all over our city, then we certainly shouldn’t have a problem with talented local chefs making delicious local food.

It sure would be a shame to see Fresno’s attempt at a food truck culture get squashed before it even really starts.