by Avrum Shepard
Have you noticed all the food trucks parked around the City? It’s hard to miss them, since they have jumped in number from only 20 four years ago, to about 250 today. Off The Grid (http://offthegridsf.com) holds about 20% of those permits and operates around 50 trucks in the City today.
It’s not just a food truck, it’s a phenomenon, and there have been several reports in the SF Chronicle, SF Examiner, the Westside Observer, and the West Portal Monthly about them. Most articles say they aren’t at all like the “roach coaches” you’d see parked at construction sites years ago. Heck, there is an article about food trucks in the most recent AARP magazine and even in Information Week, a long-standing tech weekly.
In the spring of this year, one of the West Portal merchants invited the 3Sum Eats food truck to park in front of their business for a day. It worked out so well for 3Sum Eats, that they opened the Market & Rye restaurant on the first block of West Portal Ave. It also triggered a proposal by Off The Grid to add West Portal as another location served by their fleet on a regular basis. Off The Grid suggested closing 14th Avenue, between West Portal Avenue and Portola Drive on Tuesday nights between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm and providing eight trucks. We don’t know yet what type of food the trucks would serve, but regulations block them from offering foods similar to those provided by established area restaurants. There will be no tables but there might be chairs.
Many of the restaurants (there are about 20) on West Portal were not happy with the competition, so Maryo Mogannam, President of the West Portal Merchants Association called a meeting in June to discuss the issues around permitting the food trucks to block 14th Avenue and setup business on a permanent basis. Most of the restaurants were very concerned about the competition the food trucks would offer. After all, the trucks don’t pay rent, are said to have some tax advantages and so have a significant financial advantage over brick and mortar restaurants. They seem to charge the same for their fare as brick and mortar places. On the other hand, Off The Grid estimates that the trucks will attract somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 shoppers to West Portal. Those people could include a whole new demographic and potentially provide opportunity to current merchants, restaurants included, to significantly increase business.
Off The Grid has placed food trucks at 15 locations throughout San Francisco, Marin, and the East Bay. The trucks are located at specific places and they communicate with their customers via their websites, Facebook, and Twitter.
One issue raised at the Merchant meeting was litter. Off The Grid, and many observers note that the trucks clean the areas during their stay and leave a place cleaner than when they arrive. Probably the most significant issue people mention is closing 14th Avenue. The Greater West Portal Neighborhood Association Traffic and Safety Committee is opposed to the idea of blocking 14th Avenue during the evening commute because of the extra burden it would put on the Vicente & West Portal Avenue intersection as traffic flows around the blocked street. They recommend Off The Grid consider using one of the two public parking lots in the neighborhood and augmenting that with curb-side parking in the vicinity.
What do you think of the food truck idea? Is it a good one or otherwise? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll publish a follow-up to this article next month.