West LA restaurants fight proliferation of food trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on August 27, 2009

It was only a matter of time before the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants started getting their napkin rings in a twist over all the new taco trucks. The first area to complain? West Los Angeles’ Mid-Wilshire district, where such fine eating establishments like Toshi’s Fresh Asian, Koo Koo Roo, Baja Fresh and Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria have banded together to complain.

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Police Department arrived to dish out tickets to many of the trucks. And they didn’t come with a side of friendliness, either.

“They don’t have city and health department permits,” said Lt. Dan Hudson, watch commander at the Los Angeles Police Department Wilshire Division, who was quoted by the LA Times. “Restaurants complain because the lunch trucks are taking their business, and they don’t have [proper] permits.”

The paper added:

Sumant Pardal said the truck he leases to operate India Jones food catering [pictured] was impounded after police told him that “businesses don’t want you guys here.”

Pardal, who said he recently moved from Arizona and had been operating India Jones for a little more than a week, said he was cited for failing to have a California driver’s license and vehicle tags.

“They were trying to find any reason to cite me,” said Pardal, who said he’s been a chef for more than three decades.

[Note: We'll have an email interview with Sumant Pardal coming soon.]

Interestingly, the article noted that these vendors were seeking advice for the first time from the newly formed Asociación de Loncheros La Familia Unida de California. This represents the first significant crossover between these nouveau food trucks and the existing Latino trucks around the Southland.

According to LAist, the local restauranteurs are upset:

“They’re only picking on us apparently,” said Toshi’s General Manager, Fred Williams, who thinks all the recent criticism has been unfair. “We’re actually not the ones who called the police [on Wednesday]. All the restaurants here have been complaining about the trucks. We gave up on it a long time ago. We really haven’t been doing anything about it.”

And that’s true. Jose Ceja, the manager over at Johnnie’s New York Pizzaria, says all the restaurant managers in the area, including Koo Koo Roo, Baja Fresh and Organic to Go, have been meeting over the issue. “We’re all trying to work together getting rid of these things,” explained Ceja. “I’ve cut employees left and right because we don’t have enough income to keep everyone here. The economy has been bad and I had to cut, and then these trucks show up and had to cut more. We all average $15,000 to $18,000 in rent, have to pay employee taxes and alcohol licenses.”

I also checked in with LA taco truck lawyer extraordinaire Phil Greenwald, who said that this enforcement might not hold water in court.

He emailed me with the following reaction:

LAMC 80.73b2f (Time limit parking of catering trucks on the streets of Los Angeles) was considered by Superior Court Commissioner Barry D. Kohn on June 10, 2009. He dismissed the citation against the driver of the truck on the grounds that the ordinance was not in conformity with the California Vehicle Code. He held that the time limits were not rationally related to “public safety” as required by applicable Vehicle Code Sections. The “one day” sweep of catering trucks along Wilshire Blvd. appears to have been applied in a discriminatory manner since all vehicles parked along that street were not treated similarly. California Appellate Court Decisions do not permit discriminatory enforcement.

For the record, here’s the language of LAMC 80.73b2f:

F. (Amended by Ord. No. 177,620, Eff. 7/23/06.) No catering truck shall remain parked at any residential location for the purpose of dispensing victuals, or at any residential location within a half mile radius of that location, for a period of time, adding together all time parked at each residential location, which exceeds 30 minutes. Upon the elapse of that period of time, any catering truck that continues to be used for the purpose of dispensing victuals must be parked at a location more than half a mile distant, as measured in a straight line, from the location where the vehicle was parked at the beginning of the 30-minute period, and the vehicle shall not return to that location for at least another 30 minutes from the time of departure or relocation. The requirement that a vehicle must be parked one-half mile distant shall only apply if the new parking location is in a residential area.

No catering truck shall remain parked at any commercial location for the purpose of dispensing victuals, or at any commercial location within a half mile radius of that location, for a period of time, adding together all times parked at each commercial location, which exceeds one hour. Upon the elapse of that period of time, any catering truck that continues to be used for the purpose of dispensing victuals must be parked at a location more than half a mile distant, as measured in a straight line, from the location where the vehicle was parked at the beginning of the one hour period, and the vehicle shall not return to that location for at least another 60 minutes from the time of departure or relocation.

  1. Daniel H. Said,

    Forgive me, but … good for them? This food truck craze sounds like it’s getting way out of hand.

  2. ES Said,

    As someone who used to work in that area (at 5600 Wilshire Blvd., to be exact), I say good for the food trucks! That stretch of Wilshire is a wasteland for interesting lunch options.

    Your fast casual choices are all bland and mediocre: Toshi’s Fresh Asian, Koo Koo Roo, Baja Fresh or Johnnie’s New York Pizzeria. If you want sit-down, there’s Marie Callendar’s or IHOP. The ONLY interesting non-chain eatery is the Black Dog Cafe.

    I don’t have an ounce of sympathy for these restaurants. Their food is mediocre and bland. I would have wept with joy to be able to inexpensive cheap Korean tacos, Indian food, barbecue, etc. from these food trucks. Here’s a tip for brick and mortar restaurants: SERVE BETTER FOOD.

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  4. Mikey B Said,

    What is out of hand? The fact that the people have spoken with their dollars? The establishment of restaurant service is is a bloated greedy pig that sits back and relaxes and waits for people to come, dump thier wallets for more often than not mediocre service and food. These trucks are out meeting the people with their best smiles and dishes and making waves across the nation.

    GREAT GREAT GREAT

    Eating out should always be about the FOOD. If someone makes better, more appetizing/interesting options for us to NOM NOM then hell yeah. GET IN MY BELLY

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  6. Virginia Said,

    My husband works in this area and was sooooooo happy when India Jones’ truck showed up one day. Finally, some great tasting food. Now he is gone and my poor hubby will have to make due with the horrible restaurants in the area. Their food is bland and has no spice to it. :( Luckily I work in Pasadena, the land of great and many many choices for lunch! It these restaurants had better food, they would not have to worry about some truck out front. They need to think about that side of it and do something about their boring menus.

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