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Circling the Food Trucks
Coalition Seeks to Change Laws that Limit NOLA's Moveable Feasts
New Orleans’ food truck operators are putting it into overdrive as they look for ways to fight city hall and expand their presence in the city. With the recent formation of the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition, and the coalition’s partnership with the community-minded web project Neighborland, the city’s fledgling fleet of food trucks hopes to gain grassroots support for New Orleans’ food truck culture and lobby for friendlier laws to encourage the growth of the scene.
The New Orleans Food Truck Coalition’s founding members include local trucks Taceaux Loceaux, La Cocinita, and Geaux Plates, along with Baton Rouge truck Curbside, Miss Linda’s Catering (better known as the yaka mein lady) and the folks from www.NolaFoodTrucks.com.
NoDef checked in with Alex del Castillo of Taceaux Loceaux for a better understanding of the coalition and their mission.
“We’re basically a bunch of truck operators who got together to try and coordinate our efforts with the city in trying to build a constructive dialogue with them,” said del Castillo.
Specifically, the coalition wants to open up the CBD to food trucks, a part of the city that’s currently off-limits, presumably to protect the interests of brick-and-mortar restaurants who don’t want added competition from the trucks. Laws also prohibit food trucks from parking within 600 feet of a restaurant and require trucks to keep moving after 30 minutes at a location.
Does del Castillo think Taceaux Loceaux is a threat to restaurants in the CBD? Hardly.
“We’re very popular with some of the best chefs in town,” he said. “They eat at the truck. If we’re at odds with anybody, we’re at odds with people who run crappy restaurants who survive by being in the CBD and not having any competition.”
In addition to the laws that should be changed, the coalition also wants to revampand clarify other laws that were originally intended to regulate “mobile vendors,” which not only includes food trucks, but could also apply to fair and festival vendors and smaller carts and wagons, like the Lucky Dog carts dotted across the French Quarter. It isn’t clear how Lucky Dog manages to operate in the Quarter while all other mobile vendors are restricted from doing so, but their perceived monopoly illustrates the need to take a new at city regulations with contemporary vendors in mind.
“The laws,” said del Castillo, “are complicated, and seemingly contradictory, and enforced incorrectly.”
He tells the story of recently being kicked out the CBD because of an inconsistency between his permit and the ordinance regarding the official boundaries of the CBD.
“I want there to be more trucks,” said del Castillo, who values culture over competition. “I think our food truck culture is still growing, and we’re such a food culture town.” It’s embarrassing, he says, to hear people brag about the food truck scenes in place like Austin and Portland, while New Orleans is still a hostile environment.
Neighborland has joined the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition in their fight, becoming an on-line hub for like-minded community activists. In addition to raising awareness by providing a platform for the issue, Neighborland also hosted on on-line petition that gained over 750 signatures in a week.
The two groups are also planning a food truck round-up to attract more attention to the city’s meals on wheels and promote the idea of permanent food truck lot.
“We’re trying to be a sort food truck incubator for young entrepreneurs and help get them in the business and actually grow the sector,” said del Castillo. It’s important, he adds, to have “a central kitchen that everyone can share, because that’s one of the key things, having a commissary that meets the state requirements.”
While the New Orleans’ food truck scene has so far been rooted mostly in the weekend bar scene, del Castillo believes there is potential for a lot more. He believes food trucks can enhance the city’s culinary reputation and be an economic driver for more small business.
“There are other cities that have trucks downtown,” said del Castillo. “It’s not like an insurmountable problem. There are ways to do it equitably where everyone wins.”
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