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.
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