Westwood, CA: First Food Truck Lot Opens in Westwood amid Support, Backlash

(Courtesy of Book That Truck)

By Sam Hoff  |  Daily Bruin

(Courtesy of Book That Truck)
(Courtesy of Book That Truck)

An empty lot across the street from UCLA on Gayley Avenue officially opened to the public Monday as Westwood’s only food truck parking lot.

The lot was met with an outpouring of support from hungry customers and backlash from Westwood business leaders who question its legality.

The Westwood Village Food Truck Lot, on the corner of Gayley Avenue and Le Conte Avenue, will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, said Barry Fogel, promoter for Book That Truck, the company which manages the lot. He said it will include a rotating selection of food trucks, including Cousins Maine Lobster, Kogi BBQ, Say Fish Taco and Roadhouse Rotisserie.

“I like to really find interesting trucks,” he said. “You won’t find five taco trucks here one day; there’ll be one of each kind of food.”

The lot will open around 11 a.m. most days, and will close sometime in the late evening, Fogel said. He added that all the trucks take credit cards and have “A” ratings from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Mallvinder Kahal, a fourth-year environmental science student who stopped by the Say Fish Taco truck on Thursday, before the official opening, said he was happy to see that the lot was no longer empty.

“I’m sure people are grateful to have this here,” Kahal said. “I know I am.”

Kahal added that he thinks the lot’s location near fraternity row will make the new business popular.

Westwood community leaders and business owners, however, expressed concerns about the lot.

Steve Sann, chair of the Westwood Community Council, said he thinks the food trucks will present unfair competition to more traditional restaurants.

“For those of us looking to build a sustainable village economy … (we think) they’re just here in a very predatory way to peel off customers from brick-and-mortar restaurants,” Sann said.

Sann added that he thinks food trucks in Westwood hinder efforts by local leaders to revitalize the area.

The 8,750-square-foot lot, a former Shell gas station, was sold in April 2013 for nearly $2 million to landowner Barry Beitler.

As recently as December, the Westwood Community Design Review Board considered a four-story building Beitler planned to build on the site, which would have ground-floor retail, three floors of medical offices and underground parking.

But a few weeks ago, Fogel said he and Beitler arranged to turn the lot into a food truck space. Fogel said his company removed weeds to make the space more inviting.

Beitler was unavailable for immediate comment about his plans for the site.

Katherine Hennigan, economic development director and Westwood deputy at the Council District 5 office, said she called the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and the public health department on Monday to check if the land is safe and the business is operating properly.

She added that the two departments are reviewing the concerns, and that Councilman Paul Koretz’s office is working with the departments to resolve the matter.

Sann said the lot may violate the loosely enforced Westwood Village Specific Plan, a document written by the city of Los Angeles in 1989 that only allows six fast-food establishments on Gayley Avenue. The plan defines fast-food establishments as, among other criteria, dispensing meals over a counter with a limited posted menu, limited or no table service and payment before eating.

Sann also questioned whether the company had a certificate of occupancy or business permit specifying that it can conduct business on the Gayley Avenue property. Fogel said Book That Truck has a business license and the individual trucks are permitted, but that he was unsure whether the business has or needs additional documents.

Several nearby restaurants declined to comment on the Westwood Lot’s opening.

In a statement, Pamela Hodes, owner of Book That Truck, said she initially expects some controversy from neighboring restaurants, but thinks retail stores will be happy with increased foot traffic from the lot.

Fogel said the lot will add competition to the Westwood restaurant environment.

“There’s a huge demand for food trucks. The food is good; it’s chef-driven, (and) it’s very fresh,” Fogel said. “I don’t think they can push the genie back in the bottle anymore.”

Lisa Chapman, the outreach and communications chair for the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said in an email statement that the council will most likely discuss the new development at its meeting Wednesday.

The council had already planned to speak about food trucks in regard to a City Council motion pushing for regulations for food trucks on L.A. sidewalks and parkways.

Fogel said he plans to keep the lot open as long as possible, though it is too early to tell how successful it will be.

The lot will announce its trucks each day on its website and Twitter page, Fogel said.