PASADENA – Restaurant owners in Pasadena fired the opening shot Tuesday in a battle with trendy gourmet food trucks, which brick-and-mortar businesses claim are luring away customers.
To the chagrin of many Pasadena restaurant owners, the city of Pasadena doesn’t subject food trucks the pricey conditional-use permits restaurants must obtain to open for business.
“You can’t have a double standard and that’s the problem,” said Robin Salzer, owner of Robin’s B-B-Q and Woodfire Grill. “The city created a double standard because food trucks were the flavor of the month.”
Restaurant owners don’t simply want to force food truck operators to apply for conditional-use permits. Many want food trucks barred from parking on city streets, restricted to operating on private property (500 feet from the nearest restaurant) and operating only after 10 p.m.
Some even suggested enacting a ban similar to San Marino’s ordinance, which doesn’t allow food trucks at all.
“The black and white of this is that catering trucks shouldn’t be allowed in Pasadena,” said Bessie Politis, Western Pacific regional quality assurance manager for Starbucks.
But restaurants should tread lightly when regulating food trucks, said Matt Geller, chief executive officer of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association.
Geller’s association sued the city of Monrovia this year for attempting to draft laws to ban food trucks at the behest of restaurant
“Where was the city of Pasadena when Blockbuster was going out of business?” Geller said. “This is not the deal of unfair competition, it is consumer choice.”
He added that any Pasadena ordinance restricting food trucks must have a “public safety component … or, it won’t hold up.”
The easier solution is to sit down with the vendors and work out a deal amenable to all sides, Geller said.
“We are not bullies, we have done a lot of work with cities,” Geller said.
Restaurants power much of Pasadena’s economic engine, according to city officials.
Pasadena has the highest per capita concentration of restaurants in the nation, city officials claim.
With the recent redevelopment of Old Pasadena, high density residential building and mass transit, food trucks are just the next trend in the city’s urbanization, according to William Kimura, Pasadena Department of Public Health, environmental health division manager.
The trucks’ popularity has “exploded” in the last year, Kimura said, with trucks parking in Old Pasadena.
The city tried to intervene, but failed in an attempt to drive the trucks from business districts popular with young urban professionals.
“A year ago, I tried to get the food trucks out of Old Pasadena because there were so many complaints,” Kimura said. “But city staff and the city attorney said it wasn’t doable.”
Such a change would require amending the original ordinance, which Kimura said was more likely with the support of restaurants.
And restaurant owners all but ignored food trucks until the coaches started converging on a small lot on North San Gabriel Avenue, where many of the city’s young professionals pack the Friday Night Food Fair and Artisanal Marketplace.
Cameron’s Seafood Restaurant owner Peter Gallanis laments the sight of 300 to 400 customers in lines that wrap around corners on Friday nights at the Food Fair.
“It might not be taking a lot of my business, but I worry about my friends,” Gallanis said.
In the ultra-competitive Pasadena restaurant scene, the food trucks represent a threat to the viability of many established businesses, Salzer said.
“The pie wedges are getting smaller and smaller,” he said.
But as Geller said, fighting food trucks is like fighting progress. With restaurant start-up costs set at more than $500,000, many of those who venture into the food business don’t dare to take the same risks as those operating food trucks.
“People in restaurants don’t come up with crazy options on food trucks because they don’t have the overhead,” Geller said.
And an ordinance like the one suggested by Pasadena restaurant owners won’t dissuade some of the popular trucks from cruising to Pasadena.
“If these laws were passed, it would not deter us from going to Pasadena. We would just work with surrounding businesses because we don’t go to places we are not invited to,” said Libby Dearing, sales and marketing associate for the Border Grill Food Truck.