By David Smiley | MiamiHerald.com
Food trucks are not allowed in Miami Beach, but the city may establish a monthly food truck festival in North Beach as a way to gauge support changing the rule that prohibits the nomadic kitchens.
As the South Florida food truck craze exploded in Miami-Dade County, different communities welcomed scores of rolling restaurants with regular festivals for the scene’s foodie following.
Johnson & Wales University’s North Miami campus features the Biscayne Triangle Truck Round-Up on Tuesdays, South Dade hosts the Cauley Square Food Truck Party each Wednesday, and the Magic City Casino features the monthly Wheelin’ Dealin’ Street Food Festival, to name a few.
But there are no such events on Miami Beach, which has mostly been off-limits to food trucks.
That, however, may change.
At the request of Commissioner Michael Góngora, the city is considering the creation of a monthly or bi-monthly food truck festival on North Beach’s Ocean Terrace, a two-block stretch of oceanfront hotels, shops and restaurants starting at 73rd Street. And if all goes well, a general city prohibition of the popular but sometimes controversial food trucks could end.
“Its a good idea because we’re trying to encourage more business in North Beach and get more people up to Ocean Terrace,” he said.
According to the city, food trucks are only allowed to set up shop as private caterers or during permitted special events.
But Góngora said he thought inviting the mobile eateries — which have an online following of tens of thousands on Facebook and Twitter and web pages designed to locate individual trucks — would attract new crowds to North Beach and in particular Ocean Terrace, an area he said has problems with vagrants, panhandling and “illicit behavior.”
When Góngora brought the issue up recently during a Neighborhoods committee meeting, commissioners and administrators agreed to look into a trial food truck festival during an slow time for business, such as a week night, before considering changing any city laws.
Góngora is meeting with North Beach residents 8:30 a.m. Thursday at Sazons Cuban Cuisine, 7305 Collins Ave., to discuss the proposal. City staffers will return to Sazons at 10 a.m. on June 2 for a second discussion.
The community meetings could be important, considering food trucks haven’t always been welcomed by brick-and-mortar business owners who pay rent and sometimes complain that the trucks swoop in and steal customers, leave litter and food behind or flood storefronts with exhaust.
In Miami, police have shut down food truck roundups on at least two occasions, citing code violations and complaints from residents.
Marlo Courtney, managing director for Goldman Properties, which owns several Ocean Drive hotels and two restaurants in Wynwood, said the appearance of food trucks at Wynwood’s popular Second Saturday started out well but became a headache.
Courtney said he’s not against food trucks in North Beach, but said he doesn’t want the city to let them onto Ocean Drive or Lincoln Road.
“They are entrepreneurs and what they do provides something great, quick and simple, but I think the city will definitely need to keep their eye on it,” he said. “It’s a good idea have some interaction with some businesses in North Beach, though I wouldn‘t support something like this in South Beach, where we have such a concentration of restaurants.”
Góngora said that even if the North Beach festivals are successful and the prohibition is ended, it’s unlikely the city would allow food trucks in South Beach because of concerns voiced by business representatives like Courtney.
“I don’t think it’s a concern if we do it on Ocean Terrace,” he said. “Their concern is could the next step be Ocean Drive?”
Whether North Beach business owners are accepting of the proposal is yet to be seen, but food truck operators say Miami Beach would do well to welcome them in.
“We get two-, three-, four-, or 5,000 people to some of these events,” said Jim Heins, owner of Latin Burger and Taco, one of Miami’s first gourmet food trucks. “It’s like the Rolling Stones came to town.”
Heins, who lives in South Beach, acknowledged that regulating food trucks remains a work in progress but stressed that truck operators aren’t trying to steal anyone’s businesses or leave problems behind. He said if anything, food trucks draw new customers out to areas they wouldn’t normally visit.
Said Heins: “It’s the biggest cheapest advertising you could probably get.”