Philadelphia, PA: City Council rethinks Drexel University food truck bill after backlash

HEMERA TECHNOLOGIES Will the city's proposed bill kill Drexel University's food truck culture?

By Kenneth Hilario  |  Philadelphia Business Journals

HEMERA TECHNOLOGIES Will the city's proposed bill kill Drexel University's food truck culture?
Will the city’s proposed bill kill Drexel University’s food truck culture?

City Council has decided to hold off on further action on legislation introduced in June that would have “killed” the mobile food community on Drexel University’s campus.

“We don’t know which parts to keep or must change yet,” Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell told the Philadelphia Business Journal. “We will keep it where it is as we meet and deal with all the vendors, the business community, university and students — as we deal with everybody involved.”

Blackwell in June introduced Bill 150600, which would essentially create a Drexel University District, or the area along 32nd Street between Market and Chestnut streets, where a total of 25 vendors – street and sidewalk – would have been permitted to operate.

Vendors said the bill would have “killed” the campus’ food truck scene.

A meeting with Gary Koppelman, of USA Mobile Commissary, who spoke on the food trucks’ behalf, led Blackwell to recognize that some of the bill’s requirements don’t fit in with today’s mobile food vending industry, according to Josh Kim, owner of Spot Gourmet Burgers.

For instance, not all vendors want to be remain stationary – one of the bill’s stipulations.

“It amazes me,” Blackwell said. “People think in different ways. You live long enough and life changes. Some people are looking at vending differently [now.]”

She said she plans on looking at all points of view to make sure “the people we’re dealing with and serve are both satisfied.”

Blackwell said City Council would look at the issues in September, with a public hearing tentatively scheduled for sometime in October.

“She didn’t recognize how much this bill was actually going to impact [us,]” Kim said. “They needed to understand the philosophy behind us pushing back. It wasn’t a money issue, it was a philosophy issue. She heard and understood, which is great.”

The meeting with Koppelman found the root of the legislation stemmed from a handful of trucks on Drexel’s campus on 32nd and Market streets, Kim said.

“It was a situation of throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.

A number of food trucks are situated on 32nd Street on Drexel’s campus — “dilapidated” trucks that have been there for years, Kim said.

“By having a permanent truck, that’s what you get — you get this complacent attitude from the owner of, ‘We’re here anyway, so we don’t have to make improvements to our truck,'” Kim said.

The situation is evident, not anecdotal, Kim said regarding the food trucks on 32nd Street.

“They have been in the same place for so long, sinking into the asphalt,” he added. “When you have business people, such as those on 32nd Street, it just makes matters worse. People always tend to notice the negative in any situation and they forego all the positive things happening, and this is just an example of that.”

But Kim sats creating new legislation would not fix current problems.

“All we need is the existing legislation to be followed up and be enforced,” he said.”

Drexel University did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but there is “open communication with Drexel right now,” said Rob Mitchell, president of the Philly Mobile Food Association and owner of the Cow and the Curd food truck.

“As an association, we want the recognition by the city,” Mitchell said. “We seek the validation as viable, small business entities, ones capable of growth and expansion. We want to be viewed that way.”

Gary Koppelman said Drexel is willing to allot funds to keep food trucks and the areas around them clean.

“The councilwoman is looking for an all-around solution to allow vendors vending, students fed and trucks happy,” he said. “[Council said they are] not going to put forth this legislation until it is fair to all. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. We’re looking for it to be done once and right.”