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Stossel: The Fight Against Food Trucks

Protectionism at play? Politicians say food trucks are "unfair competition" for restaurants.

Food trucks are a vital part of many vibrant neighborhoods. For some entrepreneurs, they're a great way to enter the food industry.

Laura Pekarik is one of these entrepreneurs. She sells cupcakes from a food truck in Chicago. Laura says the food truck industry "gives individuals like me an entrance into a market opportunity for the small business owner that otherwise wouldn't have been there. I was able to rent a kitchen space instead of renting a whole brick and mortar and managing a team of people. Everything kind of was under my control to kind of get my feet wet in the business."

But since starting her business, the increased regulations have made it too hard for her to take her truck in to the city. Often she is not even allowed to park. When she does find parking, she can only stay 2 hours. "Every moment that we're driving around and not parked in the location with our window open meant that we couldn't sell," she says.

Baltimore Pizza Truck operator Joey Vanoni tells John Stossel about his similar experiences. He is not allowed to park his truck within 300 feet of any brick and mortar restaurant that sells pizza. Joey says that means "there's almost nowhere left for me to operate."

Why do politicians limit where food trucks may park? Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney says he wants to protect existing restaurants. "It is such a small margin business and it employs so many people," Tunney explains. "That's what we need to protect." Stossel says, he's a bottlenecker.

Produced by Naomi Brockwell. Edited by Joshua Swain.

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  • Bob Mitchell||

    One size does not fit all. That is the reason you have local officials making these decisions.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Yes, we need more officials making more decisions.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Yes, the guy who gets most of his support directly from established local businesses, including restaurants, is definitely going to be impartial when given the power to limit new businesses.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Restaurants use crony capitalism to keep out competitors who don't want to pay those sometimes hefty costs for a brick-and-mortar place.

  • tommhan||

    Don't want to pay? Maybe it is because they cannot pay for those costly brick and mortar expenses.

  • Homple||

    Want real vibrancy? Food trucks are piddly stuff these days. Marijuana trucks operated by gay-married illegal Mexican migrants for the win.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Gay -married illegal Mexican migrants are so 2 months ago. Today's vibrant neighborhoods require climate friendly transgender Muslim immigrants that accept bitcoin. Try to keep up.

  • NoVaNick||

    Bitcoin? You must be an alt-righter! Only fiat currencies created and controlled by central banks are acceptable.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Global warming concern foes seem to be a central tenet of libertarianism these days.

  • ||

    "Every moment we're driving around and not parked in a location with our windows open is a moment that we couldn't sell."

    Hint: Onerous regulation aside, your cupcake business is a terrible idea to begin with and putting it on a truck makes it even worse. There are decent food trucks and food truck ideas, this is just a terrible idea on wheels.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    Sure, but that should be up to the marketplace to determine.

  • ||

    Agreed, sorta. In the marketplace of ideas, this is a loser and we should not choose it. It doesn't behoove us as libertarians to choose a lame horse and then act like the race was rigged when it doesn't win.

    Maybe if it were a gourmet cupcake and fresh raw milk truck... maybe.

  • Citizen X - #6||

    So don't choose to buy cupcakes from the shitty cupcake truck. THAT is the libertarian solution.

  • ||

    As a principled cultural libertarian, I sometimes adamantly defend deplorable people's right to be ridiculed for having bad ideas.

  • Mitsima||

    Oh ho-ho, check out whose getting all omniscient in da hizzouse; is this the prelude to a run for public office?

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    I wonder. I confess I don't know much of anything about running a food truck. But looking at the food trucks that congregate in my area, I see that few of them have anything dessert or dessert-like. Most of them have the stuff you'd expect: tacos, pizza, burgers, subs, with some rabbit food trucks thrown in for the vegan crowd. Here, at least, it's possible that a cupcake truck would benefit from lack of competition.

  • Anomalous||

    Some people like cupcakes better. I, for one care less for them!

  • NoVaNick||

    The other day, I met my wife for lunch and she suggested a food truck, but it was kind of cold and there was no place to sit, so we went to a restaurant. My guess is that restaurants don't make much off lunch anyway, especially, since people tend not to order alcohol. But that will not be enough for them since they want total control of the market.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's not fair that restaurants must comply with onerous regulations and inspections, and pay unfairly high property taxes. That just isn't fair. And it certainly isn't fair that food trucks get to avoid a lot of that. So to make things fair, food trucks need to face the same unfairness as restaurants. Two wrongs make a right.

  • NoVaNick||

    When faced with logic, you can bet that the interested parties (restaurants) will get more creative with their lies-probably pay someone to do a study showing that food trucks cause obesity and/or global warming.

  • ||

    And?... I think you mean (((restaurants))) and, yeah, fuck those property-owning motherfuckers! They're the reason we lost WWI!

  • NoVaNick||

    And your point is?

    This has nothing to do with owning property, most restaurants in cities where you will find food trucks lease their space.

  • ||

    This has nothing to do with owning property, most restaurants in cities where you will find food trucks lease their space.

    Do you have a study to back this up or am I just supposed to feel better because you want to fuck over the restauranteur *and* the property owner?

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Owning property gives you the right to demand that people eat your shitty, expensive food rather than getting good, cheap food from a truck, apparently.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Hrm... more like "owning (or renting) property for your business gives you a vested interest in the regulatory apparatus and ensuring that competitors are similarly subject to it".

    So when a food truck comes along that not only poaches your customers by sitting down right in front of you, not only blocks customers by taking up parking spaces, but they do this without you having the opportunity to contest their license as *your* competitors had when you first opened business? Yeah, it's perfectly understandable that you might try to find a way to hamper them.

    Might not be right, but it's perfectly understandable.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    If you don't want food trucks "poaching" your customers, make food they'd rather eat.

  • ||

    Right, because the food trucks are reaching into an untapped and under-served market of "food that can't be prepared in a fixed location".

  • EscherEnigma||

    If you don't want food trucks "poaching" your customers, make food they'd rather eat.


    To be clear, are you arguing that it's not understandable, or are you just re-stating your already-established opinion that it's wrong to do so?

    Because only one of those is interesting to me.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    To be clear, are you arguing that it's not understandable

    It's completely understandable and that isn't the point.

  • ||

    Owning property gives you the right to demand that people eat your shitty, expensive food rather than getting good, cheap food from a truck, apparently.

    Right because that's what the bill(s), zone(s), and ordinance(s) invariably do; force people to eat at some singular locality at gunpoint. Not vacate public right of ways that property owners arguably have legal access to.

    This is the other edge of the 'muh roadz' argument. Private businesses didn't pave these roads. If they did, it's plainly evident the food trucks wouldn't be allowed on them.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    So you seem to have three plates spinning here:

    Property owners paid for property therefore they get to determine what happens near their property.
    Food trucks make the same things restaurants make so they don't have the right to make it near a restaurant.
    Food trucks don't pay taxes so they have no right to use public roads.

    How libertarian of you.

  • ||

    Property owners paid for property therefore they get to determine what happens near their property.

    Do you own *anything* in the alderman's ward? Do you live in the ward? Do you vote in the ward? Are you aware of the size of the ward? Who owns/controls the parking within any given ward, the alderman or the city proper?

    You have zero plates spinning and are insisting that they all spin in a direction more conducive to liberty.

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    Food trucks pay sales tax, any associated business taxes, and probably property tax as well since most states tax vehicles. And since property taxes vary by vehicle type, I can assure you the taxes on their food truck aren't at the same millage rate as your Honda Accord.

  • Hank Stamper||

    Yes but they lease from a private party who owns the land. I don't like regulations but public roads are a right of way to be used for transportation purposes and not an invitation to setup shop. They are squatters and squatters have no rights (in my America anyway). A local government elected by the people has every right to dictate the terms of the use of its roads (unless they are private roads, then fuck off slaver).

  • ||

    unless they are private roads, then fuck off slaver

    Private roads/spaces and not otherwise contractually obligated.

    Not entirely sure that it's fair/legal for Simon Malls to contract you to open and staff a taco stand in their mall, let taco trucks park in their parking lot, and then sue you for vacating your taco stand. I know quite a number of franchises (Starbucks, Subway, Panera) frequently have policies or riders in leases preventing strip malls/property owners from leasing to competing chains on a given property or within a given vicinity.

  • EscherEnigma||

    To be clear, are you suggesting that's what Simon did in the Starbucks/Teavana thing? In my quick search the reason I found for closing the Teavana locations was that it just wasn't a profitable business, not any allegation of bad-faith behavior on Simon's part.

    That said, as far as I can tell, this whole Chicago food truck deal is about street-side parking. I doubt anyone would have an issue if a lot-owner agreed to let a food truck park there for a while, and even if a restaurateur did have an issue, they would take it up with the landlord/lot-owner, not the city government.

    So the issue really does seem to be public streets, and whether or not the city has the right to regulate traffic and street-side parking, and whether it's right for them to do so.

  • ||

    To be clear, are you suggesting that's what Simon did in the Starbucks/Teavana thing?

    No. Merely that, just because property is privately owned, all bets aren't necessarily off.

    That said, as far as I can tell, this whole Chicago food truck deal is about street-side parking.

    It's been a back-and-forth and, largely downplayed by the article is that, the regulation(s) being upheld are piecemeal/patchwork loosely oriented around squatting. Some are absurdly slanted against food trucks (no parking within 200 ft. of a vending machine), others are rather blatantly food truck owners bemoaning that they can't blatantly or specially skirt several laws (2 hr. parking makes food prep impossible!). It's kinda generally agreed that what you propose, a private property holder hosting a food truck, is generally allowed but with all the different opinions and voices it's hard to say that's true for everyone or that it's always the A-1 top priority.

    The best is when neighborhoods and suburbs have designated farmer's markets and food truck events. Food truck owners consistently gush over the ability to set up shop and prepare and sell food all day long. I'm sure I'll read at Reason and hear from the forum about how the favoritism and cronyism is a backhand to local brick-and-mortar businesses.

  • Tionico||

    When was the last time yuo visited Portland Oregon? There the food trucks have place, and are free to operate pretty freely. The city have even transformed disused lots in commercial or high traffic areas and brought in good utilities, then lease pads to the food trucks and trailers. My favourite "food court" has THREE Mexican, one Salvadoran, two Ethiopian, three Asian, one Russian and one middle eastern. Most have been there for years. I have MY favourite Mexican, when the Salvadoran is open I'll often eat there as well. When both are closed, I know which Ethiopian I like best.
    The trucks/trailers are built to a special food prep code for mobile units, and are regularly instpect, again to standards tailored to mobil units. The rent can't be much, the city still get their business tax revenue from the businesses, Mom and Pop vendors can get a leg up in any old enclosed vehicle as a starter, I've seen some real funky rigs..... typically replaced by a brand new inside and out large rig within a year, I've a good idea how much that new trailer, fully kitted out for cooking and serving costs.... the guy's fed his family well off the profits and STILL sells his food cheaply and buys a new trailer. The whole family help work the business, and they've opened a second location in the last year or so, new trailer fully kitted.

  • Tionico||

    Could they afford a brick and mortar sit down restaurant, or even take-away? Nope. I've asked him, and I know real estate prices in that crazy town.
    Instead of trying to squash the innovation and motivation. the ity of Portland decided to embrace the phenomenon and make it work to everyone's advantage, including the consumers'. Just about the ONLY smart thing the City of Portland have done, but I believe this should serve as a model for any city dealing with this "problem". Make it a solution instead. EVERYONE wins. What they serve for under eight bucks will cost twelve in a brick and mortar joint. Their margins are the same so that means they have to sell a lot more for the same profit. But it works I'd rather eat at that place three times than at the sit down joints twice.

  • ThomasD||

    Portland's 'embrace' has been to regulate the shit out of them.

    That they are at least allowing them does put Portland slightly ahead of many other municipalities, but not by a whole lot.

    Let's also not lose sight of the fact that B&M food service everywhere is also highly regulated.

    So their really is not much libertarianism to be had in any of this. It's all permission of one sort or another.

  • SIV||

    Food trucks AND Naomi Brockwell?

    Blast from the past retro-reason !

  • some guy||

    Something must be done to prevent people from providing superior value to consumers. We don't want too much economic growth. It might create additional income inequality...

  • EscherEnigma||

    Are parking meters legitimate?

    If so, then I'm pretty sure the city has the right to do this, even if it's not "right".

  • some guy||

    Of course the city has the power to do this. Was anyone arguing otherwise? Local politics is all about legal corruption.

  • ||

    Local politics is all about legal corruption.

    The alderman actually seemed pretty honest, especially when he admitted to owning local restaurants. Usually, they'd just enact the zoning ban and only enforce it against food trucks they didn't own.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Of course the city has the power to do this.
    "Power" is your word, not mine.

  • sarcasmic||

    Power and authority are not synonyms, though for people with power it's a distinction without a difference. Having the power to do something, while lacking the authority, means they can do it anyway because power means no one can stop them.

  • Drake||

    I'm sure Tunney's getting some fat, fat checks from these restaurant owners. Just look at what the liberals have done for the taxi cartels in persecuting their competition- all in the name of "consumer protection", of course. Yeah, if by protection you mean being saved from riding clean cars that don't smell like rotting ass with puke and shit stains...

  • ||

    Yeah, if by protection you mean being saved from riding clean cars that don't smell like rotting ass with puke and shit stains...

    I don't know what crowd you spend time around but in my circles, generally, we don't get to the verge of pukeshitting and *then* have the Über/Taxi debate.

  • Pinky||

    I don't mind food trucks. I've just never eaten from one that served anything better than mediocre food that wasn't overpriced. I don't get the loyalty and enthusiasm they seem to inspire.

  • sarcasmic||

    I like to go to county fairs and such. There is always a variety of food, but most of it is meh. Italian sausages, fresh cut fries, blooming onions, whatever. The Greek truck is usually good, but still. It's not special.
    Then last year and this year there was a Korean taco truck. Korean-Mexican fusion. O. M. Fucking. G. It was sooooo good.
    Sadly though, there are no food trucks where I live. Too many laws and not enough population density. But I'll be going back to that fair just for the Korean tacos. Damn.

  • NoVaNick||

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, people who want to sit down and talk over lunch will still eat at a brick and mortar restaurant, and these will have a competitive advantage when its cold outside. The ones who are most threatened by food trucks are fast food or take out places. Cities do have a right to regulate the public way for safety, but this should not be for the benefit of one business over another. And if places like Chipotle, Starbucks, and McDs, lose business and ultimately have to close shops in places where they have been outcompeted by food trucks, that's the free market at work for you.

  • DrZ||

    If trucks hurt the business of brick and mortars, then politicians should make it illegal for Amazon to sell in their cities.

  • John B. Egan||

    This is an old story.. Brick and mortar businesses are the backbone of dining areas in cities. They hire large staff, pay big taxes and long term leases. As much as I liked the movie 'Chef', I also recognize that cities have a duty to not let businesses be run out of existence when a food truck pulls up in front. Nothing stops a food truck from opening a brick and mortar business. Go somewhere with no competion...

  • Longtobefree||

    "Nothing stops a food truck from opening a brick and mortar business."

    So you are volunteering to provide zero interest loans, and HR departments to deal with the blizzard of federal, state, and local regulations on non-family employees?

  • stuartl||

    "...that cities have a duty to not let businesses be run out of existence..."
    Huh? No they don't. They do have a duty to let citizens make their own choices.

  • stuartl||

    "...that cities have a duty to not let businesses be run out of existence..."
    Huh? No they don't. They do have a duty to let citizens make their own choices.

  • Rockabilly||

    I have a pot and pizza truck.

    Business is very good.

  • DrPat||

    I worked in the restaurant business during college and grad school (30 years ago. No longer and I have no conflict of interest.

    Normally I am in agreement with the principle that we are over-regulated, but not in this case.

    I'm sure that any libertarian food truck operator would have a conniption If I set up my own food truck directly in front of theirs.

  • Longtobefree||

    Not likely. They would just run you out of business by being better, cheaper, or both.

  • tommhan||

    I can understand not parking right near a restaurant but government should not try to put these productive people out of business by harsh regulations that make it impossible to park anywhere.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I really don't like things where parents make their kids act as a mouthpiece to their opinions. Perhaps those kids came to those conclusions themselves, but my guess is no.

  • Tionico||

    Anyone else read about what happened back when most freight traffi was moved on rivers and canals? The boats and barges were either pulled by livestock or sometimes rowed. Then came the steam locomotive. Uh oh.. now what? At first not much rail was in place, but some forward thinking folk laid light duty rail alongside the canals, and used steam engines to pull the barges. As more miles of rail were placed, th canals began to lose market traction because they were so slow, and labour intensive, not to mention limited by where the waterways went. Steam powered riverboats became quite common, and were relatively cost effective.. for a while. But railroads began to work smarter.. standardising guages, running shorter lines to ienterconnect with the main lines, more powerful locomotives, then long bridges began to be built over the larger rivers. Next, steamboats could no longer fitunder the new bridges, and they tried to use legal action to prevent the railroads from building such low bridges. In the end, market factors finished off most river traffic, leaving the dry land rail lines to haul it. No government protectionism was brought to bear on the brick and mortar restaurants, er, I mean riverboat traffic. New developments in that industry have made river traffic for some types of transport profitable, at times even hauling rail cars. Market forces pressed these changes, not government regulation, or stomping on their competitors.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    In my crony-crusted small town, food trucks cannot operate on a public street, must get a permit to operate from private land, and that only allows for 6 months in any location (and that location must then stay vacant for 6 months).

  • Longtobefree||

    Move, my son. Move soon, and far.

  • Longtobefree||

    No question. Nothing says equal competition like a truck vs a sit down, waiter staffed restaurant.
    Choice one; stand outside and order from a few things that can be grilled or fried (or a cold sandwich), stand outside and eat, enjoy the bugs and weather. Pay a low price.
    Choice two; sit inside where it is warm and dry, have a three or four page menu to choose from, lots of different dishes, table service, and a big check.
    Sure is hard to figure out which of these very, very, very similar choices to make.

    Or maybe things have changed since 'my day' (?)

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