10 Things Food Trucks Won’t Say

Smart Money released an article on Friday about mobile vendors, called “10 Things Food Trucks Won’t Say”, detailing some of the biggest secrets behind food trucks in the United States. Among these ‘secrets’ are many rules of the trade that food trucks have had to deal with based upon government regulations and the basics of running a food operation. Below I’ve detailed some of the main points Smart Money brought to attention, alongside the factors at play.

One of the first points mentioned by the article is that food trucks are often not supposed to be at the location they are serving from. This is in no way true for all food trucks, as each city has its own rules governing when and where food trucks can vend. While in cities like Portland, Oregon food trucks have far less stringent parking rules, in New York City they have recently been chased out of many parking places because of the arbitrary enforcement of an archaic rule. That is not to say though that the majority of food trucks are operating illegally. In many cities food trucks are banding together to find lots and parks where they can legally vend, with over five legal lots already present in New York City. Ultimately, food trucks’ issues with the law are a result of local governments’ failed attempts to regulate them and appease restaurateurs, which many food trucks are now resisting by citing that protectionist laws are hindering their business growth.

The article then discusses how local restaurants hate food trucks because they steal customers and undercut their prices. The articles mentions later how food trucks actually are not very cheap at all (twice mentioning $16 lobster rolls from Red Hook Lobster Pound), and even raises a final point saying that food trucks are ultimately losing their edge. These conflicting ideas about food truck prices and popularity all contradict each other because there is no golden rule that defines all food trucks. While some food trucks do offer meals up to $20, they are using premium ingredients, like importing live lobsters from Maine. Today Red Hook Lobster is parked right next to Moshe’s Falafel, which offers generous falafel platters for under $5.

Research has shown that food trucks disrupt fast food and quick service restaurants, most of which are chains. These same chains are taking to the streets with their own trucks, like the Taco Bell truck, Ben & Jerry’s Truck, Sizzler Truck and more. While prices vary, I can’t see how high prices at food trucks could deter customers from fast food restaurants, the same way I wouldn’t pay anything less than $15 for lobster from a truck and I wouldn’t pay more than $5 for ‘meat filling’ from Taco Bell. Smart Money says food trucks are losing their edge because the ‘cool factor’ is fading as chain restaurants develop their own trucks. That sounds like basic competition to me, the same competition that made food trucks initially more alluring and keeps many stagnant restaurant chains on their toes.

Several trucks claim to be the first to use Twitter to reach out to their fans, and Smart Money references social media as a tool customers and health inspectors both use to track food trucks’ whereabouts. Social media is a double-edged sword for many food trucks, while it has helped them gain huge followings and build up demand and anticipation for their offerings, it also allows authorities to follow them and keep up to date with their operations. The article cites an example where a food truck was ordered to close for a violation but continued to promote an upcoming event. If a food truck is forced to close than they still have the right to reach out to their fans, but to plan to operate illegally is something they should never publicly announce, and demonstrates a commonly known fact that people should be careful what they post on Twitter.

For many people food trucks have never fully outgrown old nicknames like ‘roach coaches’, and Smart Money describes how restaurants and food trucks are not held to the same health standards and many even operate without licenses. The article says that lax guidelines in some cities may have accounted for the 53 outbreaks of foodborne illnesses that have occurred between 1998 and 2010, from food prepared at a fair, festival or other mobile food service infecting 1,186 people. The article makes no mention of how many outbreaks come from restaurants or from packaged goods, like last year’s listeria outbreak, or 2010’s salmonella outbreak that infected at least 2,000 people. While food trucks undoubtedly are held to different standards in different regions, this is not something they can be held accountable for. Health inspectors do their best to rate their cleanliness, same as restaurants; but without national standards these trucks can be difficult to monitor. However all trucks are subject to some level of health guidelines, except the ones that operate without licenses, according to Smart Money.

Trucks that operate without licenses are running a very risky business, and as someone who has worked closely with food trucks and carts I have never encountered a truck without a license. New York and LA both offer a very limited number of licenses, contributing to a black market where $300 licenses are bought and sold for $20,000 and more. The market for legal licenses is completely saturated, though for a food truck to operate illegally it would have to undertake a considerable risk in doing so. In New York vendors are required to wear their licenses, and as consumers we can have the foresight to look for some document of authenticity before sampling their food. Undoubtedly there are some food trucks whose offerings may not be as fresh or clean as others; many cities forbid their food trucks from preparing food on the truck, and thus they must use alternate kitchens or their home facilities, and many food trucks do get very hot during the summer, the same way all kitchens do when in use. While all food trucks are not created equally, they do bear a much higher level of public scrutiny than most restaurants, and thus go the extra mile to make their trucks as clean as possible.

Fortunately for us, organizations and vending associations have come along to demand fairer legislation and national standards. No system is perfect, which is why restaurants are inspected with letter grades of which many do not receive the grades they wish, and food trucks may soon face the same health inspections. If food safety is truly an issue we should be concerned with from food trucks, than nonprofit mobile food organizations should not be the ones to rally their own members, national regulations should be set to put these issues to rest. While food trucks may be simultaneously on the rise, declining in popularity, offering cheap low-quality food and charging too much for their food, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. rather than trying to limit and dispose of them, we should focus our energy on dispelling rumors by creating a national standard.

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com

 

Baltimore Takes Home the Trophy at ‘A Taste of Two Cities’

Saturday’s epic faceoff between Baltimore and Washington D.C. food trucks, entitled ‘A Taste of Two Cities’ ended with Baltimore taking the top honors. The weather was perfect on Saturday, and the event was a huge success for both cities that participated and for all those who attended the event.

Baltimore’s Gypsy Queen Café went home with the top honors from this competition, a food truck specializing in gourmet sandwiches, burgers and tacos, including a crab cake taco that I would wait a very long time in those lines to try. Souper Freak, serving cold soups such as Japanese edamame vichyssoise won the Baltimore People’s Choice award, and The Cajunator won the award for D.C. Washington’s Red Hook Lobster took second place, and Baltimore’s Miss Shirley’s got third.

There was a definite spirit of cooperation between the two cities at the Westport Waterfront in Maryland on Saturday. Three dozen trucks attended the event in all, armed with the knowledge that pleasing their respective cities and uniting would help them all get closer to getting what they need.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a self-proclaimed food truck supporter, attended on Saturday as well. “When you see an event like this that brings two cities together in the spirit of friendly competition it makes me feel that I made the right decision in supporting the food trucks. Food trucks really speak to the personality of the city.”

Organizers estimated that about 5,000 people came through to the event by 4 p.m., and about 12,000 in all by the end of the day. Pre-Baseball partiers made up a large part of the crowd, and given the success of the event it will be held again next year. Until then, Baltimore reigns as the champion, and the Winner’s Cup will remain there until the next face-off.

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com

 

Village Voice’s Inaugural Choice Streets Event

On Tuesday night the Village Voice held its first annual Choice Streets event, a food event modeled after the popular Choice Eats event, but featuring food trucks rather than restaurants. Choice Streets was held right alongside the Intrepid, and guests could freely roam the ship, test out the simulators and eat and drink as much as possible from the vendors.

Over 20 food trucks attended the event, with a wide variety of Vendy award winning trucks, dessert and juice trucks and many of the more prominent food trucks seen throughout New York City. Some notable trucks we sampled were Solber Pupusas, Taim Mobile, Korilla BBQ, Bongo Brothers and Red Hook Lobster.

The event aimed to be a food and drink ‘tasting’ event, so each truck offered a small selection of what their menu has to offer, in addition to various beers and wines to try at different booths. Having never tried Solber Pupusas, I thoroughly enjoyed my first pupusa. Essentially it is a thick corn tortilla with shredded chicken inside of it, and topped with homemade pickled cabbage, jalapenos, onions and a tomato and makers mark based sauce. The pupusa completely lived up to its expectations, and proved to me why Solber Pupusas won the top price at the Vendy Awards in 2011.

With so many trucks to sample, it was hard to narrow down which ones to eat from. As the night got colder, I sought out a hot Cuban sandwich from Bongo Brothers, which was savory and delicious, despite the fact that many Cubans I know might object to mustard being in the sandwich. Taim Mobile and the Falafel King were both serving their signature falafel balls; ultimately Taim’s line was shorter so I tried their delicious green falafel in hummus. I also grabbed a hot slice of Valducci’s sweet pepper pizza, which was warm cheesy, and pretty much perfect.

Korilla BBW debuted a new fish taco for Choice Streets, which was light and refreshing. The fish was some variety of white fish, and came with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, corn and crushed kimchi flakes on a soft tortilla. This was the first time I had tried a fish taco from Korilla, and I can only hope they add it to their regular menu.

The final truck I stopped at was Red Hook Lobster, which I was delighted to see at a food tasting event, considering their lobster rolls sells for $16. Unfortunately Red Hook only had shrimp rolls to offer, which is understandable but a little disappointing. The shrimp rolls were very tasty, consisting of large shrimp in mayo and old bay in a hot buttery bun. Though small, Red Hook’s shrimp rolls put a perfect cap on the delicious food to try at this year’s inaugural Choice Streets.

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com

 

Red Hook Lobster Pound

Today was finally the day to splurge on that infamous $16 lobster roll. After walking by Red Hook Lobster in Midtown near Desi Food Truck and the new Thai Food Cart enough times, the line was short enough and my wallet was full enough to order a Connecticut style lobster roll. The Maine style is described as lobster in mayo served on a hotdog bun split top-side, while the Connecticut roll is lobster served on a buttered and toasted top-side split hotdog bun.

At $16, I wasn’t thrilled with the size of the Connecticut roll. It was well packaged for the walk back from the truck, and came with a pickle. I decided to get a $2 whoopee pie too, just to add a little something to the meal. Though small, the roll was stuffed with tender lobster meat, and came with a pickle on the side. The lobster was as delicious as any lobster I’ve ever had. There’s nothing artificial about these rolls, and though much of the meat seemed like it came from the claws rather than the tail of the lobster, it was light and buttery, and ultimately filling.

The bun itself was toasted to perfection and slathered with butter to the point where it didn’t make my hands greasy, but still made the lobster melt in my mouth. The whoopee pie after was icing on the cake. A little sloppier than I would’ve have liked, but the cream inside was rich and delicious.

Overall I was very impressed with Red Hook Lobster. The food was delicious, some of the best I’ve ever had from a street vendor. The only drawback would be that I paid more for this meal than I ever imagined paying at a food truck. For $18, this meal left me feeling very conflicted; my wallet is empty but my stomach is very satisfied.

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com

Long Island City Lot Opens for Beleaguered Food Trucks

The long-awaited food truck lot in Long Island City finally opened this Tuesday, August 9th. Food trucks that have been forced to relocate popular spots throughout New York City have already begun to seek out this refuge, hoping that a large congregation of trucks might attract New Yorkers to this new destination.

The lot itself it 11,000 square feet and privately owned by a company called Rockrose Development. The lot is open for lunch from 11AM until 3PM, attracting all kinds of visitors to its daily trucks. The lot can hold sixteen trucks at a time, and is being monitored by the New York City Food Truck Association to ensure equity. The Association is trying to rotate as many trucks in as possible; however trucks pay the corporation a fee to use the lot during the day. On opening day, the Desi Food Truck, the Rickshaw Truck, Cupcake Stop and others came to the lot. Korilla BBQ, Red Hook Lobster and other trucks arrived the second day. The Long Island Food Truck Lot is on Twitter as well, and you can follow here.

DailyFoodtoEat is the official blog of FoodtoEat, a sustainable online food ordering and concierge catering service featuring your favorite restaurants, food trucks and caterers. Check out the deliciousness here: www.foodtoeat.com