Enthusiasm in Atlanta for food trucks — but not from restaurant owners

After a flurry of public discussion a few months ago, the issue of food trucks in Savannah seems to have slipped near the back of a long list of pressing concerns.

But I’m sure the issue will continue to be raised. As I’ve said before, I’d love to live in a city dense and vibrant enough for food trucks, but I’m pretty sure Savannah doesn’t qualify. Still, I’d favor some guidelines modeled on what’s working in other cities, such as Charleston.

The AJC has an interesting piece today on Atlanta’s food trucks: Food trucks taking a bite out of restaurants

There’s an upbeat video about the food truck culture, which is right now limited to 35 trucks. I like the emphasis here on the civic engagement that food trucks can produce:

But the accompanying article discusses some of the tensions food trucks are creating:

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people show up on Thursdays for a gathering of food trucks in Midtown.

But in some cases, the trucks have brought controversy along with gelato, tamales, Venezuelan corn cakes and char-grilled hot dogs. They have lower overhead than restaurants and — some restaurateurs suspect — tenuous allegiances to particular neighborhoods and their existing businesses. In a tough restaurant market, is that an unfair advantage?

“My main issue is, how are they helping the community?” said Coggin, who noted that his restaurant is hit up for charitable donations every week and wonders if food trucks are also asked. “Are they just making a buck and leaving? It’s like poaching.”

The “Art Stroll” in Castleberry Hill became the focus of the food truck debate earlier this year when the trucks got a special exemption from Atlanta to park in a public area. Local restaurateurs complained that the trucks were siphoning off business on the biggest night of the month, without paying their dues in the neighborhood. One restaurant owner made sarcastic T-shirts in which wearers could complain that they went to the Art Stroll and got only a cold taco.

It’s a newsy piece and well worth a read.

2 comments for “Enthusiasm in Atlanta for food trucks — but not from restaurant owners

  1. October 14, 2011 at 9:19 am

    Hi Bill,
    Why do you say that Savannah is not “vibrant” enough. This bothered me the first time I read it and it still does. I disagree and feel that this city is extremely diverse in culture, politics, religion, ethics, and education. With such diversity there is certainly a vibrance to our city’s culture that only needs to be highlighted by individuals in positions of leadership or influence, much like yourself.
    Separately, a city’s “vibrance” has no bearing on whether the introduction of food trucks will or will not happen or if they are or are not a good idea for Savannah. I think with proper regulations to prevent harm to existing restaurants, food trucks are a great thing. As a restaurant owner I can say with certainty that I don’t want a food truck to pull up in our parking lot and open it’s window for business. That said, I believe in a system of free enterprise. This is the good ol’ U.S.A! So, yes to food trucks in Savannah!
    Thank you for the opportunity to speak my mind…Laura

    • bill dawers
      October 14, 2011 at 10:31 am

      Thanks Laura, I am speaking directly to the issue of whether our streets are busy enough to support food trucks. While downtown Savannah is vibrant in many respects, there are days, weeks, and even whole months when there is very little foot traffic in the Historic District generally and only moderate traffic in the two spots tourists are actively encouraged to go: City Market and River Street. The number of downtown office workers, a key food truck constituency in many cities I gather, has dwindled. I would love to think that food trucks would create all sorts of fresh demand, but I think anyone counting on a booming business had better think hard about the locations available (they would likely be limited to some degree as they have been in other cities) and scout out those locations on slow days, rainy days, midsummer days, etc.

      All that said, I’m fine with opening the door with an ordinance modeled on Charleston’s or Atlanta’s.

      The best chance for successful trucks might be those from existing restaurants that don’t have to go out every day.

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