By Amy Zimmer | DNAinfo News Editor
UPPER EAST SIDE — They have thousands of followers on Twitter and a legion of devoted bloggers tracking their every move. But the appeal of food trucks apparently doesn’t extend to the Upper East Side, where residents and food truck owners alike claim they aren’t welcome.
One taco truck was exiled from the neighborhood after a month-long ticketing blitz, culminating in an arrest and confiscation of the truck.
Alberto Loera, 27, whose mother Patricia Monroy owns Paty’s Tacos truck, spent two and a half years serving up cemitas, tortas and tacos de lengua on the truck at Lexington Avenue between East 86th and 87th streets before he was hauled out of his truck by police on Nov. 30.
“They say the community doesn’t like us. It’s not the community. The community calls us every day, asking ‘Where are you? Why aren’t you down here?’,” said Loera, who re-opened the truck last week in a new daytime spot in Morningside Heights. They operate at night in Union Square.
City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin had singled out the taco truck when discussing her new legislation, which seeks to revoke food trucks’ licenses after three parking violations. Some Upper East Siders said they resent food trucks for ignoring rules against feeding the meters and remaining too long in one parking space. Locals pointed to printed menus that Paty’s gave out which listed its hours and address, far beyond allowable meter regulations, they said.
“They are lawless,” Community Board 8 member Teri Slater said of food trucks. She called 311 to complain last week about a different vendor, Eddie’s Pizza Truck, which was parked in front of a Gristedes on Third Avenue between 77th and 78th Streets. It’s illegal to keep feeding the meter, “which they do with impunity.”
“They compete with the local brick-and-mortar stores, which are struggling, and they don’t pay the same taxes,” Slater continued. She emphasized that she was all for entrepreneurship, but Slater said she would rather see the truck owners take over empty storefronts.
Loera denied his truck remained in one place for too long, saying that it moves spots every hour or so to comply with the rules.
On the day of his arrest, police first gave Loera a summons for operating a vehicle in a restricted area.
“They said, ‘Are you going to move or what?’,” Loera recounted. “I said, ‘I don’t make that decision. My mother does. She’s the owner.’ But my mother doesn’t speak English.”
Loera said his mother always drove the truck and had to move it because he doesn’t have a drivers’ license. “I don’t know what happened next. Out of nowhere they came and said, ‘everyone out of the truck.'”
Police confirmed that they arrested Loera after he refused to move the truck. They charged him with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration.
Debbie Jones, who launched Eddie’s Pizza Truck six months ago — and has had multiple complaints lodged against her since then — said NYPD enforcement of trucks and alleged parking violations varied across the city.
“People complain about trucks all the time. But it’s most followed up on in the Upper East Side,” she said. “There’s always one person that complains. For every one person complaining there are 100 others who like you.”
But some food truck fans say the Upper East Side’s loss is the Upper West Side’s gain.
After Loera and his family retrieved their truck from a tow pound and found it had been stripped of almost everything except the refrigerator — the food, blender, cutting boards and $2,300 generator — they took out a $5,000 loan from a relative and found a spot last Thursday in front of Barnard, on Broadway and 118th Street.
They won over a repeat customer on the Upper West Side the following day.
“I’m very picky,” said Pedro Velez, 44. “I like this food.”
A Columbia administrator, who declined to give his name, also said he was pleased to see another truck in a corridor that hosts a dosa truck and a Korean-Mexican one. “We’re having a food truck revival,” he said. “I love trucks.”
Loera would like to return to the Upper East Side eventually. “This is not the end,” he said. “I wish I could go back.”