By Lauren Kelly | Cornell Sun
The debate between food trucks and local restaurants has been heating up recently, as food truck owners urge the City of Ithaca to relax restrictions on their trucks and restaurant owners accuse food trucks of policy violations.
Under the current policy, food trucks may not operate closer than 200 linear feet from the nearest brick and mortar restaurant.
At or around Cornell, students have access to a number of food trucks that include Louie’s Lunch Truck, Dos Amigos, That’s How I Roll, the Hot Truck, Franny’s and Collegetown Crepes. However, many of these food trucks only begin operation late at night to avoid violating policies.
In an effort to address issues facing restaurants and food trucks, a Board of Public Works subcommittee on street vending convened a meeting on Jan. 25 to allow local business owners to air their concerns.
Some of the points discussed at the meeting included complaints that food trucks were blocking sidewalks and using unauthorized spaces, rules regarding permit fees, and questions about tax payment and enforcement, according to Kathy Servoss, executive assistant in the public works department.
David Farahi ’16, co-owner of the Dos Amigos food truck, located on the corner of Eddy and Dryden St. in Collegetown, is one food truck vendor advocating for a vending location policy change.
Dos Amigos currently operates close to restaurants like Sangam Indian Restaurant and Miyake Japanese Restaurant. However, so as to not violate the 200 feet restriction, Dos Amigos only starts serving food after 10 p.m. when the bricks and mortar restaurants close.
Farahi said that while many Cornell students still support Dos Amigos during its operating hours from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., being confined to certain hours of operation is frustrating and constricts business.
“It’s a great time to operate, but at the same time the amount of staff on the backend that we have to hire to be able to operate is very difficult” he said.
Farahi also said he thinks it is unfair that food trucks in Collegetown cannot operate during prime hours.
“It’s pretty clear that there is a monopoly in the Collegetown market and some restaurants feel threatened by a thousand dollars in sales that comes from our food truck,” Farahi said. “They are uncomfortable with the fact that some people have found a way to go around high rents that are imposed in Collegetown.”
Some restaurateurs have expressed concerns that the Department of Public Works have discriminatory policies toward bricks and mortar restaurants too.
Department of Public Works have discriminatory policies toward bricks and mortar restaurants too.
Nathan M. Lyman, who represents Ithaca Renting and some of its restaurant tenants, listed some examples in an opinion published by The Ithaca Voice after the subcommittee meeting.
“Property owners have to pay a sidewalk maintenance fee to the city, but the food trucks get to use the sidewalk for free. Restaurants that utilize outdoor tables on city sidewalks are charged a per square foot permit fee by the city,” Lyman wrote. “Food truck patrons stand on the sidewalk to access the food truck, but the city discriminates in favor of the food truck because there is no corresponding per square foot fee to food trucks for sidewalk usage.”
Lyman also argued that the amount of time the city spends regulating food trucks costs taxpayers unnecessarily.
While Servoss admitted that regulating food trucks did take “a significant amount of time,” she added that the City of Ithaca did not have any unfair policies against either brick and mortar stores or food trucks.
“There’s enforcement, addressing complaints, making sure food trucks have all their paperwork and making sure signs are put on correctly so they can be carried out,” Servoss said. “But we are being fair. We are giving the food trucks a chance. We are giving brick and mortar restaurants a chance. We are not discriminating against either of them.”
Lauren Luciani ’18, who said she loves to eat at both restaurants and food trucks in the Collegetown area, believes that both types of food establishments promote local business.
“More choice is better for the consumer and both establishments have different purposes,” Luciani said. “Sometimes I want to sit down at a restaurant, but others I just want good food on the go.”
Farahi also agreed that food trucks and restaurants should be working harmoniously.
“We are not direct competition, and it’s a shame that we can’t be open for longer hours,” Farahi said. “In other places food trucks have the ability to vend in normal operating hours. It’s insane the amount of time we put into preparation of our food to only be able to serve from 10 p.m. to two a.m.”
The Jan. 25 meeting was only the beginning of the debate surrounding food truck policies, with another subcommittee meeting scheduled for Feb. 18, according to Servoss.