NYC Food Trucks Feeling the Heat

From an outside perspective, food trucks seem to be thriving throughout the country, popping up in new cities and in greater numbers than ever before. However internally, the industry is seriously hurting from city restrictions on parking areas and clashes with brick and mortar restaurants, and in New York City the conflict has already caused several trucks to go out of business.

The Urban Oasis Traveling Organic Café was forced to close earlier this year, citing various pressures compounding on their truck. This is just one example of how much the ‘booming’ food truck industry has fallen this year. While food trucks sometimes complain about one another, brick and mortar restaurants often call the police when they feel food trucks have encroached upon their space and threatened their customer base. Since the parking rule that forbids food trucks from parking in metered spaces, the industry has been dealt its most serious blow. Most of the commercial districts throughout New York City have parking meters, forcing the majority of food trucks to relocate and lose their acquired customers.

This parking rule has been in existence for decades, but only this year a judge ruled that vending goods from metered spaces applies to food trucks as well. The rule began to be enforced in May, and since then the New York City Food Truck Association has seen the revenues of its members drop by as much as 70%. The 1—month old association has already shrunk from 31 to 28 operators, with approximately 30 other food trucks operating in the city.

The first trucks began serving New York City around 2007, founded by entrepreneurs hoping to eventually settle in brick and mortar restaurants. The trucks immediately gained huge followings, gaining recognition on Twitter and through Zagat surveys. The trucks were deemed new and cool through their fresh designs and undeniably tasty food, attracting more trucks to the streets in the following years.

While in 2010 there was an explosion of new trucks, including Eddie’s Pizza Truck, now the industry seems to be stagnating. According to Food Truck Association president and owner of Rickshaw Dumpling truck, David Weber, “There are plenty of people who are seriously questioning the viability of this business”.

However the food truck industry is not going down without a fight. The association hired a lobbying firm to ask city agencies to address parking issues and other barriers preventing food trucks from operating. According to the firm, a lot of progress has already been achieved in conversations with city agencies, and they are hoping to have a solution to these regulatory issues by the busy spring food truck season.

The Food Truck Association has already proposed that food trucks could pay two times the muni rate that everyone else pays, and truck could be limited to two per block. They have also proposed a trial network of food truck parking spots throughout the city. Earlier this year Rockrose Development opened a lot specifically designated for food trucks in Long Island City. The association is in talks with other real estate owners to create more lots similar to this one.

Most food trucks continue to do business in metered parking spaces, but they have still relocated to areas where police enforcement is more lax. These new areas are far less robust for food truck owners however, who have developed strong customer bases throughout midtown. Other trucks have found ways to branch out their businesses, pursuing catering opportunities and special events, or purchasing food carts where they can permanently park on the sidewalk and avoid ticketing. Some food trucks are even purchasing storefronts, which are beginning to look like more stable options compared to the mounting pressures on food trucks.

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

2 thoughts on “NYC Food Trucks Feeling the Heat

  1. Interesting and important article. I’ve been a fan of the nascent, yet growing, gourmet food truck selection here in Dallas.

    http://billchance.org/category/food-2/dallas-food-trucks/

    Like everywhere, they fight restrictions put upon them by the politically connected owners of Brick-and-Mortar restaurants. While the life of a restaurant owner is a tough one and they have my sympathy, I think that the growth of food trucks will simply get more folks in the habit of eating out and will ultimately help the restaurant business.

    What is happening in Dallas is that a lot of events realize that a line of Food Trucks will guarantee a big crowd and a number of non-restaurant establishments (there is even a jewelry chain that lets trucks use their parking lot) use the trucks to draw customers.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks for the input, and that’s a great point about how food trucks can help attract customers to businesses outside the food industry. Food truck events are definitely growing in popularity, and some of them are even sponsored by large companies (Maker’s Mark sponsored the NYC Vendy Awards) that see the benefit and a key demographic that food trucks attract.

    It’s a shame that businesses that actually benefit from food trucks don’t do more to help them out.

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