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Food trucks enjoy unfair advantages as they scoop up lunch business

When food trucks park in front of downtown office towers, they are using their location to hijack customers from brick and mortar restaurants.

Food trucks have enjoyed booming popularity in the Twin Cities.

Regarding Marlys Harris’ article, “Amid complaints, chefs keep on [food] truckin,’ ” fairness is the issue that is causing the tension between food trucks and brick & mortar (B&M) restaurants.

When food trucks park in front of downtown office towers, they are using their location to hijack customers from B&M restaurants. If I have a T-shirt truck, and park at the entrance to the Mall of America, I will sell many T-shirts that would otherwise be sold by T-shirt vendors inside the Mall of America — that’s hijacking customers.

In addition to leveraging their location to hijack customers, food trucks have many other unfair advantages. B&M’s have to pay a portion of their sales for rent, property taxes, DID (Downtown Improvement District Fees), landlord’s CAM (common area maintenance), and landlord’s property insurance; food trucks pay none of these burdens.

It galls the B&M’s that we pay for police, fire, roads, sidewalks, city employees, pensions for retired government employees and other infrastructure that attracts employers to downtown, and now that that’s in place, the food trucks rush in and scoop up the summer lunch business.

Low overhead …

Trucks are a novelty, which helps their business. Minnesotans love to be outside, another advantage that dovetails nicely with the trucks’ locations in front of office towers. Trucks have low overhead (“rent” is plugging the meter, 3-person staff, limited hours), low operating expense, zero customer services (no bathrooms, no seating), and low capital cost.

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Customers need to know that the city requires every restaurant to have a certified food manager on site — this is the person who is responsible for public health with the primary duty of preventing food-borne illness. Do food trucks have the obligation? No. When you patronize a food truck, your meal may or may not have been prepared under the auspices of a certified food manager.

Noise and air polluters

And what about the power generators? They are noise polluters as well as air polluters. It would be beneficial if every food truck were required to have an electrical plug-in at the site where they sell their lunches.

Bathrooms? B&M restaurants are required to provide them — why not trucks? Seating? It’s another advantage for the trucks because B&M’s generally choose to rent additional space to provide it.  

As a matter of fairness, I suggest that food trucks pay the city a “Food Truck Access Fee” of 10 percent of sales to compensate the city for providing the infrastructure in which the trucks are thriving. It’s not enough that they pay property tax on the sales at their B&M anchor (every truck is associated with a B&M ‘home’ location). The city needs to collect an access fee from the sales generated by the trucks — just as the state collects from the restaurants at the state fair.

Locate trucks off the sidewalks

In addition to paying a 10 percent fee on their sales, I suggest they we eliminate the damage to the sidewalks caused by trucks that park on the sidewalk (800 Nicollet, for example) and we eliminate the obstruction caused by the lineup of trucks on Marquette by locating the trucks in a nearby area, such as a parking lot.

Their food is good and their appeal is high, so asking them to locate in an area that’s not in front of our landlords’ buildings seems like a reasonable way to accommodate the trucks and apply fairness to the issue.

Doug Sams is the president and founder of D. Brian’s Deli & Catering, based in Minneapolis.