A renewed debate about the future of food trucks in Buffalo will begin today, when a proposal that would allow the trucks into Canalside is discussed by the Common Council.
Behind the scenes, entrepreneurs in the growing food truck industry are lobbying to shape the city’s broader policy – from permit fees to where they can conduct business – before legislation sunsets on April 1.
Food truck owners pay $1,000 for permits to operate throughout the city, and they are restricted from serving customers in many areas downtown.
“We don’t have an opportunity to compete in the more prominent or high-traffic areas,” said Peter V. Cimino, principal with Lloyd Taco Truck.
Lloyd’s owners pay an additional $1,400 for the privilege of parking at Main and Mohawk streets, which is within the city’s special downtown vending district, and an additional $31.50 to the city for every special event they attend, not to mention the fees charged by event organizers.
“It hasn’t allowed a food truck culture to develop here,” Cimino said.
Lloyd opened in July 2010 and was Buffalo’s first food truck. Since then, the city has seen more trucks emerge, while others are up for sale. They serve burgers, beef on weck, and dessert, among other things, and can be found on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, in the Larkin District and in pockets of the Elmwood and Hertel strips where they’re not within 100 feet of an open restaurant. They use social networking sites to let their fans know where to find them.
Cimino said if the amendment to a city ordinance allowing the trucks into Canalside is some kind of trade for keeping the annual fee at $1,000, he said he’s not interested.
“It doesn’t do much for us,” he said of opening Canalside, noting parking restrictions and the existing city rules that dictate the trucks must be 100 feet away from an open restaurant and 500 feet away from a special event.
North Council Member Joseph Golombek sponsored the resolution that would allow the trucks into Canalside, and took the lead in the Council’s original food truck debate.
Golombek is meeting with a lawyer for the trucks later this week on the broader city ordinance governing food truck permits, but said Monday that his initial thought is to renew the legislation as it is.
“I don’t want to open up a can of worms,” he said.
The Canalside provision is on the agenda for the Legislation Committee, which meets at 2 p.m. today in Council Chambers. If it passes, it could be enacted by the full Council on Feb. 19.
Legislation Committee Chairman Darius G. Pridgen said he expects the Council to act on the comprehensive food truck legislation well ahead of the April 1 deadline.
“I think we definitely need to hear from the food truck operators, the brick-and-mortars and the customer base the trucks serve,” Pridgen said.
“It may be too early to decide if there are changes that are needed.”
Two representatives for brick-and-mortar restaurants that were involved in the city’s original debate over where food trucks can operate said Monday that the trucks have abided by the law enacted by the Council in January 2012, and they won’t seek changes to the ordinance.
“It seems to me they lived up to it,” said Mark D. Campanella, vice president of marketing and franchise development with Just Pizza.