The customers came and the controversy stayed away as Buffalo’s Best Food Truck Contest rolled into Amherst’s Boulevard Mall on Saturday to serve hungry customers and to benefit a local charity.
Lloyd’s Taco Truck, the Whole Hog, R&R BBQ, the Cheesy Chick and the Sweet Hearth food trucks lined up in the parking lot near the main entrance of the mall. They donated 10 percent of their total sales to the City Mission, and members of the public were asked to cast ballots for their favorite food truck and to contribute nonperishable food and clothing to the charity, which had a truck on-site to collect donations. Participants who brought a donation or purchased food from one of the trucks also were eligible to win a shopping spree at the mall.
Suzanne Hull, of the Town of Tonawanda, donated cereal, hot cocoa and soup. She had never patronized any of the food trucks, but she was looking forward to a grilled ham and Swiss cheese sandwich from the Cheesy Chick.
“I thought I would try something new, and it’s a benefit. So, hopefully, it will raise a lot of donations,” she said.
“I think it’s awesome,” said Amherst resident Jennifer Russo of the event as she waited in line at the Sweet Hearth with her 13-year-old daughter, Gabbie.
The event was almost canceled because of town permit regulations until one of the mall’s tenants, Simply Certificates, volunteered to cover the town permit fees required for the event to continue.
The problem was an Amherst “peddling-and-soliciting” law that requires “a retail or wholesale business conducted from a temporary structure or tent, truck, van or trailer” to pay $100 transient business permit fee per truck per location. In the case of the Boulevard Mall event, the food trucks would have had to pay $100 just to take part in a onetime event meant to benefit the poor and homeless.
“I’m very thankful to the business owner who helped out,” said Sweet Hearth proprietor Kelly J. Brewer.
The town is working to update and revise its peddling-and-soliciting law, as well as to create a new permit specifically tailored to food trucks. The revised law is expected to go before the Town Board for consideration next month.
The same issue surfaced earlier in Buffalo, where the mobile vending enterprise first hit the streets in July 2010. City lawmakers approved regulations that offer some protection to brick-and-mortar restaurants fearing loss of business.
The permit dilemma in Buffalo and Amherst has been “really frustrating,” Brewer said. “It’s been the biggest obstacle for my business – local governments. Hopefully, [Amherst] will come up with reasonable permitting.”
Whole Hog owner Kathleen Haggerty is a Buffalo native with a lot of experience in the food service industry. Haggerty returned home two years ago after spending 20 years living in Seattle, where she was the owner and head chef of the Buffalo Deli.
“I know everything has to be regulated, and I understand this is a new enterprise in Buffalo,” she said. “I just hope [Amherst officials] come up with a fair way to regulate, and we can go on our way and get to work. We just want to work. We want to serve.”
The food truck winner probably will not be announced until a week after the event, when all the votes are tallied. The winner won’t get anything but bragging rights, but it’s all for a worthy cause.
“This was awesome,” Brewer said. “It would be great to do something like this more often.”