Archive for November, 2009

It ain’t over in Santa Monica, my hometown.

That Bayside District Corporation still has its knickers in a twist and is ready to kick things up a notch.

According to the Santa Monica Daily Press, the BDC is going to ask the City Council to consider new legislation restricting the number and location of trucks operating in the Promenade (downtown Santa Monica) area.

“While we understand that these mobile food vendors can be a very good thing for Downtown and any area, we are concerned that if we have a proliferation of those trucks they could have a negative impact on businesses,” Kathleen Rawson, the CEO of Bayside, told the paper.

Again, not surprisingly, the argument presented here is that the restaurant owners feel that “it’s not fair” they have to pay high rent when the trucks can just zoom away when the clientele disappear. Again, my response is: boo freakin’ hoo. I’d bet that nearly all of the restaurants on the Promenade, and especially the high-end joints nearer to the beach have liquor licenses. Are you honestly telling me that a place like I Cugini, with its $15 lunch entrees, is competing with the likes of Kogi?

The paper adds that already:

food trucks to have a vendor permit through the Santa Monica Police Department and a business license through City Hall, Currently, trucks can conduct business in any legal parking spot but are limited to 30 minutes after which they must move at least 100 feet away. Food truck owners have said that it takes longer than 20 to 30 minutes to fill the orders.

The trucks must also be located at least 10 feet away from the entrance of doors, vestibules, driveways and outdoor dining areas of any business.

I’m not really sure how much more regulated they can be.

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen: Interview with Chris Rattican

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 24, 2009

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen recently opened in LA, and while I haven’t had a chance to sample its wares, I thought I’d check in with Chris Rattican, the brains behind this operation.

1) Who’s Mattie? And what’s on the menu? What’s your background with Southern food? And what defines it for you?

Mattie’s Southern Kitchen is named after Mattie Bradsher. Mattie Bradsher worked as a housekeeper for my family during my 22 years in North Carolina.

Mattie was a southern black woman who taught me a lot about acceptance. Growing up in the South in the early 80′s, racist thought was never too far away. Thanks to Mattie and my parents the idea of hate based on skin color just never made any sense to me.

I could go on all day about how much Mattie means to me and the lessons she taught me, but I’ll get to the cooking part.

As a child, I would watch her cook. She would make biscuits stuffed with salty Smithfield ham. She filled handmade pie crusts with homegrown apples and then fried them up in butter. She set the bar for every piece of fried chicken I have ever eaten. I try with every piece of chicken I fry to duplicate it. And though I’ve come close, I never will.

Mattie’s menu is constantly changing. The staples are fried chicken, Eastern Carolina pulled pork, shrimp n’ grits, buttermilk biscuits, mac & cheese, collard greens and catfish & shrimp po boys. We sometimes offer jambalaya, gumbo and red beans & rice. When we hit the streets for late night, we offer other southern snacks like hush puppies and fried pickles.

2) What’s your background in food/cooking/eating? How’d this truck thing start for you? What are your favorite non-Twittering trucks?

2) I have never had any formal culinary training. Since I was a young kid I liked to cook. The day I learned to melt cheese on a hot dog in the microwave was the day I started to really dig cooking and I just continued wanting to learn more.

For the last eight years I have cooked a Southern feast for my friends to eat while watching the UNC-Duke basketball game. The small gathering of friends took on a life of its own and now over 50 folks usually show up. Every year folks fuss at me to open a restaurant. So I figured I’d try this truck thing out to see if those folks were just being polite or if people truly dug my grub.

Non-twittering trucks. Man, I don’t even know anything going on with any other truck but mine right now. I don’t mean that in a pretentious way at all. What I mean is that we have a very small team, and if I’m not sleeping, I’m working. So I’m not familiar with any of the names of the non-twittering trucks.

3) Where’d you get the truck? What did it take to get it all set up and ready? What’s the hardest thing about driving the truck besides parallel parking?

3) The truck is surprisingly easy to drive. Sure, it takes some getting used to, but its not really that bad. You just have to pay attention because it doesn’t react quite as fast as a car.

4) What’s the best thing on the menu?

4) I don’t really know what he best thing on the menu is. The fried chicken plate is great because you get to try a couple of sides like mac n cheese and collard greens (which take two days to prepare). But you also get two sides with the barbecue plate which is eastern Carolina style pulled pork meaning it is cooked for over 10 hours and tossed in a vinegar based sauce. But if you’ve never tried shrimp n’ grits before…well, your just missing out on one of life’s finer treats. Oh, and biscuits are wonderful for breakfast, lunch, super or late night.

5) Do you serve sweet tea? :-)

5) Wonderful question. The answer is yes. Though some days we don’t have time to prepare it, we are able to have about 20 gallons (or enough for about 5 guys) of it at any one time.

Wrap-Up: Taco Truck Tour Numéro Dos: Foothill Blvd. Edition

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 23, 2009

Just like the first taco truck ride, everyone (a high of 45+ riders!) enjoyed a fun, fantastic, safe, ride through East Oakland! We had mainly new people, which is even more awesome!

Still, despite the chilly weather, it was a great day for tacos. And really, what day isn’t?

I personally had a pastor taco, carnitas taco, fish taco, shrimp taco, bites of a tamal de queso and a tamal de puerco and ended up with a sope de pastor. Oh, and a hearty scoop of mango and pitaya ice cream.

By the end, about 10 of us ended up at The Trappist for a few drinks.

If you have any more photos to share, please email me: cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks.com.

Joel’s set is pretty sweet, and even includes this good-looking dude:

Anyone got any recs for Taco Truck Tour Tres? Here’s the Oakland map.

I’m thinking maybe the High St. area ones? December 27, 2009? Leave suggestions in the comments.

Boyle Heights street vendors get hit with police crackdown

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 20, 2009

Despite the fact that East LA finally got a light rail line this week, the Los Angeles Times is also reporting on the crackdown on Boyle Height‘s illegal street vendors.

The impromptu — and illegal — nighttime food market drew the attention of Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar more than a year ago after neighbors complained about noise, trash, and crowded sidewalks slick with cooking oil. As the economy soured, nearby businesses selling similar foods also asked the police for help addressing unlicensed vending. Working with Huizar’s staff, L.A. County health inspectors and the Los Angeles Police Department began enforcing state food safety laws and the city’s ban on street vending, targeting vendors cooking over open flames.

But the crackdown intensified in recent weeks after the city’s grand opening of the revamped Hollenbeck police station and as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority prepared to welcome Angelenos from across the city to the Eastside with the Gold Line extension. Frequent visits by police have now scattered the Breed Street vendors, some of whom have been selling there for more than a decade, to quieter, less-profitable corners of Boyle Heights. Several now are putting out word of their new locations on Twitter to a committed following of foodies.

Other fun facts about this case:

Around the same time [in 2006], Councilman Tony Cardenas grew frustrated with the city’s reliance on overworked L.A. County health inspectors to confiscate food and equipment. After his office fielded calls from parents who said their children had been sickened after eating from illegal carts near schools, he asked city lawyers to explore creating a division of city inspectors who could confiscate illegal food and carts without county inspectors present. Cardenas said he was told it was not feasible. Last fiscal year, the city’s street investigators charged 178 people with street vending violations.

“With 10 million people in the county, and 4 million people in the city, it’s hard for us to be able to attack the problem,” said Cardenas, who created a city-county task force within his district that targeted illegal carts. “All we’re able to do is hit hot spots on a temporary basis,” Cardenas said.

Terrance Powell, the county health department’s director of specialized surveillance and enforcement, said 17 of his inspectors oversee the 15,710 licensed mobile food facilities across the county that range from catering trucks to push carts selling ice cream.

Another team of 10 is devoted to confiscating food and cooking equipment from illegal street vendors, which number at least 15,000 across L.A. County. Last fiscal year, that team conducted 2,300 inspections and confiscated more than 39,000 pounds of food.

Huizar’s office asked county inspectors if they could check on Breed Street as often as once a month, but a one-shift sweep costs as much as $4,000.

Vendors and local officials are trying to work out a deal where the vendors could operate “hot food farmers market on weekend nights near their old location,” to open by early next year.

Lodi caps local taco trucks at 22, permits will be transferrable

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 19, 2009

Nearly two weeks ago we reported that the Lodi City Council might cap the number of taco trucks operating in the city. At a City Council meeting last night, the lawmakers voted unanimously to do just that, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel.

While the specific language of the final ordinance hasn’t been formally approved yet, the councilmembers did agree that the permits will be transferable.

Remember how I’d asked about what attorney David LeBeouf thinks of this new ordinance? Not surprisingly, he was there:

Local attorney David LeBeouf, who has represented the owners of the trucks in the past, told City Attorney Steve Schwabauer that he is fine with the ordinance as long as it allows the current trucks to continue to operate, Schwabauer said. LeBeouf also wanted the permits to be transferable if the owner sells the truck.

The newspaper also added that Mayor Larry Hansen has charged his staff with being more aggressive in making sure that the trucks will obey existing permit, health and safety laws and that he hopes that the new permit limit makes sure that the vendors will be in compliance, as the city has had a tough time with some vendors.

“Now that there is a cap, there is a value to having that license,” he said. “There could be more understanding of I really need to play by the rules of the game if I don’t want to be suspended or revoked.”

Cupkates Truck battles City of Berkeley over parking location issues

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 17, 2009

Kate McEachern updates me on the situation in an email:

In August of 2009, I was issued a permit to operate my cupcake truck in the city of Berkeley. During the permitting process, I submitted a route map and explained that I would be operating in commercial zones on public streets. A week after I opened, a code enforcement officer located me in a yellow parking zone and instructed me to park in a legal, metered space at all times—I complied. Two months later, on Friday, November 13th, the same code enforcement officer and his supervisor approached me in a legal, metered
space and informed me that—according to a city municipal code—it is illegal to vend from a metered parking space and that I was to shut down immediately or be issued a $500 citation. I showed him my permits and documentation and referenced our earlier conversation, but he insisted I close.

On Monday, I met with two departments: one who assured me my permit is still valid and I am authorized to vend in legal parking spaces, and another who told me that it is against city law to do so. The deputy city manager assured me that she would resolve the discrepancy and get back to me on Tuesday. Today, I went to meet with her and was informed that she was too busy to see me; Berkeley Police then escorted me out of the building.

I stressed to the city that I quit my job and invested my life savings building a business that the City of Berkeley permitted and endorsed just three months ago. Every day I remain closed, waiting for the city to sort
out internal miscommunications, I lose a tremendous amount of income. The city’s response to my crisis has been to continually ignore me and now to have an armed officer escort me out of city hall.

Therefore, I will be operating tomorrow according to my normal, approved route. Please check our Facebook and Twitter pages for continued updates. We’re asking supporters to contact the Mayor’s office at 510-981-7102 or email Mayor@ci.berkeley.ca.us to voice their disapproval of the city’s actions.

Best,
Kate

I’m going to call the City of Berkeley to find out what’s going on from their perspective.

Update (2:11 pm, November 18):

I just got off the phone with Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Mayor Tom Bates to inquire as to the status of this dispute with Cupkates.

“According to us, we’re not in dispute,” she said.

Sinai told me that the city has an ordinance (Berkeley Municipal Code 14.48.220.b), which states: “Other street vending is permitted from vehicles which are lawfully parked upon streets which are not regulated by parking meters or other posted parking time limits.”

Therefore, she added, Cupkates is not allowed to park in an metered space. She also said that Cupkates was not cited, nor fined, but rather was given a warning to not park in such spaces.

Sinai said that they had referred the issue to the City Manager’s office.

“She claimed to me yesterday that she was out of business and could not operate but when I looked at Facebook, she’s operating,” she said.

I also spoke with Christine Daniel, the deputy city manager in question, who told me that she was “not aware” of a similar issue happening in the city’s history and that her office would resolve it “as soon as we can.” She declined to give any estimate as to how long this process would take.

As to Kate’s claim that she was escorted out of the building by police, Daniel says “she was asked to leave when the building was closing.”

Again, on its face, it would seem that Berkeley’s ordinance may be in violation of California Vehicle Code 22455. I’m checking with the city for their view.

Los Angeles Food Trucks Video Tour

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 17, 2009

LA Food Truck Tour from Terry Wunder on Vimeo.

A reader, Terry Wunder, just sent me this email:

“This past Saturday I went to six LA food trucks in one afternoon (Barbie’s Q, Cool Haus, Little Spoon, Kogi BBQ, Lomo Arigato, and The Flying Pig), made a video for it, and wrote an accompanying article with photos. The article/our mission was comparing the diverse field of LA food trucks against the fad originator Kogi BBQ. There are interviews with the owners of each truck and plenty of info about the food.”

Cupkates Truck draws ire of City of Berkeley

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 16, 2009

Santa Monica? Burlingame? Los Angeles? Now Berkeley, too?

This just in from Cupkates’ Facebook page: “We will not be operating tomorrow according to our normal schedule. The city of Berkeley is trying to suspend our permit. We will be in meetings all day, and back to our office route Wednesday.”

More soon as this story develops.

Los Angeles Downtown Art Walk kicks out food trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 16, 2009

Every second Thursday of the month, there’s a Downtown Art Walk in Los Angeles. Obviously, people need foodstuffs to keep their bellies fueled while they appreciate art, and no doubt the local food trucks are happy to oblige.

However, last week, according to LAist and reports from Twitter, no less than four trucks were forced to move off of Main St. (between 4th and 6th St.), including Don Chow Tacos, Fishlips Sushi (pictured), India Jones Chow Truck and Nom Nom.

They then moved over a block to Spring St., where they joined forces with the Grilled Cheese Truck, Marked5 and Coolhaus, creating one giant Optimus Prime Food Truck. Ok, so I made that last part up, but you get the idea.

LAist adds: It is unclear who forced the trucks to leave, but according to Raw Materials, an art materials store, there were “No Parking” signs lining Main St. between 4th and 6th.

Curry Up Now takes heat from City of Burlingame

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on November 11, 2009

One would think that the City of Burlingame would be pleased that a new, fun, delicious, nouveau food truck is gracing their community. Sadly, though, this is not the case as Curry Up Now‘s founder Akash Kapoor is being pressured by restaurateurs, business leaders and even city officials to get him out of the downtown strip.

The San Mateo County Times reports:

Officials have yet to discuss publicly whether they want to support the free enterprise interests of the trucks or prevent them from encroaching on local brick-and-mortar businesses. No meetings on the topic have been scheduled, as policymakers await the results of staff research.

Opinions on the matter seem split. Patricia Love, the city’s economic development specialist, said she has “gotten comments all over the board” in researching the issue.

Inquires from merchants have prompted police to ask the truck to move 500 feet every half-hour, and the owner has been cooperative, Burlingame police Capt. Mike Matteucci said. The truck is fully permitted to operate in the city, he said.

But Chamber of Commerce CEO Georgette Naylor, Downtown Burlingame Business Association President Kevin Osborne and Mayor Ann Keighran said local merchants have been groaning about the truck. Mostly, they said, shops think the truck has swooped in without having to pay the high rents properties fetch near Burlingame and Howard avenues.

In other words, restaurant owners are upset because they can’t compete. Boo-freakin’-hoo.

Worse still, city officials seem to be listening, and the truck may get run out of its prime location:

[Mayor] Keighran has been talking to business leaders and said they plan to meet with the truck’s owners. She said it may make sense to move the truck toward Bayside Park, where there are sports games and a lack of takeout food options.

But Kapoor said that would be tantamount to moving his truck out of the city.

I sent emails to Mayor Ann Keighran, Patricia Love and Akash Kapoor to get more details. I will update as soon as I know more.

Update 10:00 am Pacific Time: I just got off the phone with Akash Kapoor, who told me that a second truck is already in the works for San Francisco. He says that he’d like to work it out with the city, but doesn’t want to get into a protracted legal battle.

“If we have to move to Bayside Park, we’ll just move to San Francisco,” he said.

“I don’t have the energy to fight,” he added. “I’d rather just move 10 miles down and I know people will come.”

He also estimated that 80 percent of his customers are coming from outside of Burlingame, and in some cases, probably spend money in other city businesses, too.

“We have people coming from Santa Cruz and Sacramento. I wouldn’t come that far, but they come.”

Still no word from city officials.

Update 3:30 pm Pacific Time: Patricia Love responds:

“As highlighted in the article, some people love the convenience and price of the food the truck offers, others comment that they think it tastes great, some are concerned about the competition with local restaurants, others have concerns about safety in terms of traffic and pedestrians, and some are just curious about the truck and regulations. Take a look at the Burlingame Voice for a sample of some of these opinions.”

“The City does not have any actions in the works about vendor trucks. We are just collecting information and getting up-to-speed on the topic. Feel free to share any information you have with us if you think it would be helpful.”

“We are doing research so we can better understand the various laws that may pertain to this issue. We are also listening to what everyone has to say.”

Concerning the possible move to Bayside Park:

“The City hasn’t asked that as far as I know. I think some people may think it would be good for him to move his truck to an area without a lot of restaurants.”

“From the quote in the article, it doesn’t look like anyone has asked them to move. It sounds like the mayor was just throwing out the idea that an under-served area (Bayside Park area) might benefit from access to the food.”