Archive for January, 2010

Earlier this month, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors passed a new ordinance requiring mobile food vendors (that means taco trucks, folks) who operate in unincorporated parts of the county to get a business license for the first time. In order to obtain said license, vendors will will have to pass a criminal background check, pay $352 annually for the license and associated fees, and $100 per truck.

The vendors will also have to obey the following regulations, as reported by the The Foothills Sun-Gazette:

-In residential areas, vendors cannot operate from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. and cannot stop for more than 10 minutes at a time.

-In nonresidential areas, vendors can operate at any hour, but can only park in one location for more than one hour if they can provide restroom facilities for their employees.

-Vendors can park in the public right of way along a highway if certain safety requirements are met.

-Vendors can park off the highway if they have written permission from the property owner.

-Trash must be removed when a vendor leaves a location.

-Business equipment must be removed when a vendor leaves a location unless they have written permission from the property owner to leave it there.

The new ordinance will take effect March 1, 2010.

The paper also reported that Barbara Booth Grunwald of the county’s counsel office, said: “Most of the vendors have said ‘We can live with this.’”

However, the Visalia Times-Delta reports today on Tacos Don Toño (pictured), a truck that’s been operating for 20 years just north of Visalia along Highway 63 just south of Avenue 326. Owner Carlos Huerta says he will be affected by the new laws, and that his customers — “mostly farmworkers” — can easily locate him.

The spot is next to a fruit packing plant, but Huerta said the plant doesn’t own the spot where he parks. That means he remains unsure “whether the spot is private land or part of the county’s road system.”

[Photo: Steve R. Fujimoto, Visalia Times Delta]

Tour de Taco: February 20, 2010 (Fruitvale BART)

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 28, 2010

So after my last Taco Truck Tour, the good peoples at Oaklandish and the East Bay Bicycle Coalition connected with me and wanted to put together a sort of “best-of” taco truck ride for those who didn’t make it the other times, along with some new ones. And they even made this sweet art for it, too!

I apologize in advance for not organizing one in December (holidays), nor January (work). But I hope I can make up for it, as in a way, this one will sort of be the grand finale of my taco truck tours. In late March 2010, my wife and I will be moving to Bonn, Germany — where there is sadly, a great dearth of taco trucks. I’ll do my best to update the blog remotely as best as I can.

So why would I forsake my beloved tierra de tacos? I’ve just taken a job at Deutsche Welle English (German public radio), where I’ll be the new host of Spectrum, a weekly science and technology show. (Maybe I’ll organize a döner kebab bike ride or something over there.) If any folks are interested in organizing future rides here in Oakland, let me know, and I’ll put you guys in touch.

Thanks again to all who’ve come out for the previous two rides and have made them as fun and delicious as possible!

Here’s the itinerary:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meet: 11:00 am at Fruitvale BART (Oakland)

1. El Ojo De Agua – 12th St. & Fruitvale Ave.
2. Tamales Mi Lupita – 34th Ave. & Foothill Blvd.
3. El Gordo – International & 42nd Ave.
4. Tacos Guadalajara – 10th St. & Fruitvale Ave.

This should all be wrapped up around 4 pm, but as with the previous rides, feel free to arrive/depart as you please.

5. (Bonus) Cinco de Mayo Ice Cream – 3340 E 12th St & 33rd Ave.
6. (Bonus) The Trappist – 460 8th St (& Broadway)

Bring: Bike, helmet, camera, $10-15 for tacos, maybe $5-$10 for ice cream/beer.

RSVP: Facebook event page

If even half of the 115 people that have RSVPed as of now show up, this will be the largest taco truck ride to date and we’ll definitely need to go in shifts so we don’t totally overwhelm the taqueros. But we’ll figure that out later.

Questions? Leave ‘em in the comments, or email me: cyrus [at] californiatacotrucks.com

San Francisco Cart Project: Interview with Matt Cohen

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 20, 2010

Some months ago, Matt Cohen, a once-aspiring street food entrepreneur himself, started the San Francisco Cart Project. I met him for the first time at the recent La Cocina event in December. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to run our interview, and I figured today was as good as any, given that it’s just in the wake of the SF Mobile Cart Vendor happy hour last night at Rye Bar on Geary.

1) What’s SF Cart Project all about? I read: “This site is intended to be an affordable resource for new and existing businesses to find the basic information needed to start a mobile catering business in the Bay Area.” on your site. Are you a business? A nonprofit? Just a guy who likes to help out street food vendors? How is this related to Tabetrucks.com ?

It is an effort to create a centralized resource of regional and national mobile vending services for both new and existing vendors to find information on permitting, purchasing, licensing, cart/truck design, social media and business services.

Is this part of my consulting business, or just a hobby for someone that loves street food? Both. I am certainly trying to construct a helpful resource for answering many questions of potential clients who feel that they want to do their own research, or for people who are just considering entering the street food business but don’t want to hire someone to assist them. Longer term, it could turn into something else, if it could sustain itself. Right now, I am focused on just trying to compile as much helpful information as I can in positive and constructive way.

2) How do you see these newer Internet carts/trucks as being an extension of existing trucks? What’s your favorite local non-Twitter truck/cart? What should I order there?

The space restrictions of truck/cart service lends itself to producing a limited menu of products. The best trucks have always been the ones that specialize in one area, at a reasonable price. And those (mainly taco trucks) have been the ones to raise the bar and show customers that these mobile businesses aren’t roach coaches. The most successful new trucks/carts have just capitalized on that same artisanal spirit of limiting the scope of their menu in favor of quality, while telling a compelling story with the products they serve.

I’m a big fan of any elote that I come across. I just love them.

3) Not to rain on your parade or anything, but why would I give you $35 for this PDF file when I can download them, presumably for free from the city/county websites, no?

The intention of offering the documents on the website is to give people one resource where they can get both the code and the applications for the entire spectrum of the permit process in one shot. I am not shy about referring people to the primary documents and the appropriate websites where they can find this information for free (in addition to offering them for free viewing on the site).

So then why would someone pay for them? 1) Time. They get everything in one packet without having to travel down to each city department to collect these documents, many of which are only available in person. 2) Curating. Wading through hundreds of pages of code might be interesting for some people, but I figured others would appreciate getting everything at once so that they could focus on more important things; like their business plan. 3) Cost. To go to SF Health, Fire, Police Departments (for one hour each) is going to cost between 8-10$ in parking meter fees alone ( not to mention the inevitable 53$ parking ticket). 4) Supporting the site. A lot of this information hasn’t been assembled in this way before, and I hope that some people will be appreciative of the effort as the site expands. This is not meant to be a get rich quick scheme, but it would be nice to be able to cover some basic costs.

4) What’s your opinion on the statewide trend of increased regulation of street food and taco trucks?

I fundamentally feel that Street Food is here to stay. While a lot of local municipalities first reactions to an increased presence of street food vendors is to view them as a threat to existing brick and mortar businesses (their primary tax base), others are beginning to recognize that there is a way that street food can offer a really valuable service to specific markets, at specific times of day, where the capital investment of opening and maintaining a permanent restaurant isn’t justified.

That said, individual California municipal regulations in this area are a nightmare. From construction of these vehicles, to permitting standards, to commissary requirements; everything is stacked against small entrepreneurs finding an easy path to starting a business. There’s movement here, but I think that it is going to require community action and effort. The San Francisco Cart Project’s main goal is to provide primary source documents associated with the code so that entrepreneurs can be full informed regarding their options.

5) Where/what should I eat tonight? And what beer should I wash it down with?

If you haven’t had the Okonomiaki from Namu down at the Thursday Ferry Plaza Market you should try it. I lived in Japan for 3 years and it is my favorite in the Bay Area. From an non street food direction?: The Moules Frite at Chez Maman on Potrero Hill washed down with a Kronenberg is exceptional.

Orange County boasts three new gourmet food trucks

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 11, 2010

The Orange County Register reports on the addition of a veritable trio of trucks that will add to the food scene on the other side of the orange curtain.

Taco Dawg sells both tacos and hot dogs (yes, they’re ecumenical like that) for just a few dollars — including the famed bacon-wrapped dog (pictured.)

The company’s site advertises: “[we serve] the traditional to Cuban from Texas to Korean we have a taste to satisfy every palate.”

There’s also the Greek truck, “Louks To Go.” What’s a louk? I didn’t know either. Apparently there’s a Greek sweet dessert snack called loukoumathes (λουκουμάδες) — a fried dough soaked in sugar syrup, honey or cinnamon. Louks exist in many forms in eastern Mediterranean cultures and are likely related to gulab jamun from the Indian subcontinent. Other menu items range from two bucks (regular fries) to a Hamilton and Jefferson ($12) for lamb chops with fries.

Rounding out the three is Piaggio on Wheels, which hawks its wares as an: “OC-based Argentine taco truck. Empanadas, skirt steak tacos, chimichurri, sausage and lomito sandwiches, dulce de leche. Chef Piaggio on board at your service!”

Today, they’re serving up: “Lunch Specials: EmpaDogs, grilled tilapia tacos over chimi rice, portabello mushroom quesadilla.”

If anyone tries any of these out, please do let me know!

Taco Loco: Interview with Michael Brewer

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 7, 2010

So the other day, Michael Brewer, contacted me to tell me about his new iPhone app: Taco Loco (“Taco as in taco. Loco as in locate.”). I was thrilled, and immediately sent a message out on Twitter. At a $1 (less than the price of most tacos!), how could I refuse? I fired off my questions and lo, he responded. (He also reminded me that his brother Patrick, of Raleigh, N.C., contributed work on the app, too.)

1) How’d you come to make this app?

1) I’m a foodie. I love eating at local restaurants and trying out cuisine from different ethnicities. The taco truck culture is basically the perfect intersection of these two interests – it’s tough to get more local than food off a truck. So, when we were looking for an iPhone project to start, this seemed like a logical fit because of the iPhone’s great location awareness. We were surprised there wasn’t already an app filling this need given the popularity of taco trucks in California!

2) Where do you draw your data from? How’d you input it? Can people add new ones? What territory do you cover?

2) The initial locations that we launched with were drawn from a number of different places. Many of them were entered by our beta testers and we scoured the Internet for locations mentioned in forums, Twitter, Flickr, etc. We launched the app with a few hundred locations. I read somewhere that there is an estimated 14,000 in Los Angeles alone, so there are plenty more to find.

Since the launch we’ve seen a good response from people entering their favorite vendors. We even had Jay from gunsandtacos.com offer up his excellent list of Houston taco trucks shortly after he downloaded and started using Taco Loco.

Giving people the power to enter new spots is very important for tracking something that is transient like street food vendors. Taco Loco also gives people the ability to move a vendor from one point on the map to their current location so that as a taco truck moves through-out the day or over a week the data will be fresh.

We haven’t placed any boundaries on where people can enter new spots. We’d love to see people in Germany entering their favorite döner kebab or currywurst vendors, or people in France adding places to get crêpes (aka the French taco).

3) What’s your programming/taco truck background? What are your favorite taco trucks and iPhone apps? Where do you live?

3) We’re IT guys with a variety of application development experience who love the iPhone for its ease of use and power as a smartphone. Our taco truck background is purely as customers. We live in North Carolina and our favorite taco trucks are Rico Scopes in the RTP area and an unnamed one run by a guy named Juan near Charlotte. Harvest Moon Grille is also a great gourmet food trailer that operates in and around Charlotte — it’s run by farmers and they source all of their ingredients from their own farm or other local farms.

As far as iPhone apps go, we’re inspired by the beautiful work the Tapbots guys do. I’m replying to your mail using their new app called Pastebot. Tweetie and Twitterrific are our Twitter clients of choice. Ramp Champ (beautiful) and Flight Control (addictive) are our favorite games. I also highly recommend that your readers check out Harvest which is a great aid for selecting and storing fruits and vegetables.

4) How many people have downloaded it so far?

4) We did a soft launch and are just now starting to promote the app. We have over 300 downloads as of today. The tweet you sent after discovering us accounts for our largest sales day yet. Thanks!

5) What’s next for you?

5) We have a long roadmap planned for Taco Loco and are eager to release more features in the near future. We’re also reaching out to vendors to get their ideas on how we can best help them.

Santa Monica to open new food truck lot today

Posted by Cyrus Farivar on January 4, 2010

I’m proud to announce that my hometown of Santa Monica will be opening up a dedicated food truck lot this morning starting at 11 am.

This is not unlike Portland’s famed food truck lot, where 12 carts/trucks are parked at the corner of Southwest 9th St. and Alder Ave.

Despite recent grumblings about food trucks downtown, the city by the bay has agreed to devote an unused car lot on the corner of 14th St. and Broadway Santa Monica Blvd. for the newly-formed SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association (apparently the nouveau food trucks’ answer to the Asociacíon de Loncheros?) to operate a “Gourmet Food Truck Corner.”

Details so far are scant, but according to the flyer (above), some of LA’s most popular trucks will be there, including Kogi, Barbie’s Q, Lomo Arigato, Nom Nom, Don Chow Tacos, Coolhaus and many others. The lot will operate at least starting today from 11 am until 8 pm. No word on if this will become an everyday thing.

If you’re out at the lot today, please send in pics!