Food trucks are great for the community, but opponents have city council scared to act on ordinance

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People gather in lines for food trucks.
Photo courtesy of Tristan Lawson

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go here Pensacola’s City Council has been debating and postponing the proposed food truck ordinance for about three years now. The most recent council meeting, on Thursday, was the second reading of what is the closest they have come so far to successfully passing an ordinance that would allow mobile food vendors to operate in Pensacola.

source link However, restaurateurs, restaurant property developers, and multi-million-dollar restaurant groups appeared and voiced their opinion of the proposed ordinance and successfully scared the crap out of our timid city council.

At the meeting, the unruliest and blatantly disrespectful people were people opposed to the ordinance. One person in attendance was forcibly removed by police for shouting at the city council. Opponents often scoffed at speakers’ arguments, shook heads at councilmembers’ comments, and used obvious body language to signal their disdain for the proposed ordinance. While all claimed to be in support of the free market, entrepreneurship, and the American dream, after the behavior they displayed and their constant opposition to the ordinance in any form, one is left to wonder if they really understand what those things mean.

“Unfair,” “unjust,” “probably illegal” and “should be forbidden” were among the many phrase the opponents used to speak of the ordinance and the concept of food trucks in general. Many scare tactics and outlandish theories came out of the woodwork during this open forum. Apparently the clearly written ordinance that only applies to food trucks and mobile food vendors would also open the doors to mobile retailers, mobile tattoo trucks and even mobile bong shops! This is not only false, but if the people opposed to the ordinance would have taken the time to read it, they would know that nothing in the ordinance allows this.

One statement made by the owner of Seville Quarter was perhaps the most telling thing said, revealing the true intentions of established restaurants in downtown Pensacola in preventing this ordinance passing. “They are looking for something to give them rights,” he argued. “They will become stakeholders.”

This conversation is not about food trucks. This conversation is about maintaining control and the status quo for the interests of large and extremely wealthy restaurant groups and owners in the downtown district. It is about dominance over a market, and it is about preventing people from entering the game. Essentially they are fighting against all of the things they claim to be for: the free market, entrepreneurship and the American dream.

They claim not to be afraid of competition… so why fight the ordinance? They are afraid; they are terrified, and I will tell you why.

If you want to open a restaurant in any part of the country, you had better have a few thousand dollars. A hood vent system alone will set you back anywhere from $18,000 to $36,000. The cost of small wares, dishes and silverware can add up quickly, and restaurants’ budgets for these items sometimes run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Opening a restaurant is not cheap, and it is a risky business where it is very common to not even make a profit for the first few years of operation. The margins are small and the work is demanding.

However, restaurateurs are not infallible. Many of the problems in restaurants are caused by mismanagement and unrealistic expectations by owners who do not fully understand the logistics of operating a restaurant and have even less understanding of what their employees go thorough to get the job done.

So what does all this mean? Well, despite what wealthy restaurateurs and multimillionaires who just want to play with their money by investing in restaurants want you to think, food trucks are a good thing. A GREAT thing… for the community and the local economy.

Competition has been the root of some of the most progressive innovations to ever happen in our country. Not only does it push chefs to cook better food, source locally, and appeal more to the tastes and desires of their patrons, but it also adds new ideas to the culinary melting pot of our community. It pushes management to improve service standards and provide a better experience to their customers. It also pushes more competition between brick and mortar operations.

Competition also applies to the workforce, and with more restaurants and more foodservice options come more jobs and demand for higher wages. And since many college students depend on service jobs to make money while in school, this is something to pay attention to. Your boss will have to promote you and give you a raise when your manager quits to open his or her own business.

Many of the restaurants in our city are corporate-owned or franchise businesses where much of the profits go out of the local economy to a corporate headquarters to be distributed amongst shareholders. Food trucks purchase their product locally, live locally, and are working-class people who flip that dynamic on its head by redistributing their profits back into the community by buying local fish, shopping for fresh local produce, and going directly to the customers in our community who need good, affordable, healthy food.

Another thing to consider is what many people in the restaurant business complain about: stagnant wages, inconsistent hours, no job security, no benefits and no opportunities for advancement. Food trucks provide restaurateurs the ability to get started in the business without selling their house or taking a loan that will take 20 years to pay off. It provides chefs, bakers, and baristas with the chance to be their own boss and be in control of their own destiny. And there is nothing more American than that.

Even if none of this applies to you, options are good. Food trucks are an affordable, convenient and modern way to get great food. Many of the most progressive and cutting-edge cities in the United States have a vibrant food-truck community… and they are not restaurant deserts. They are also home to some of the best restaurants in the country who employ the best chefs and some of the highest paid wait-staff.

Basically, not only are food trucks good business, they are good eats. So when this issue comes up at the next city council meeting, make sure you show up and tell the guys in the designer suits and expensive Italian leather shoes that you want them to shut up and stop crying, and tell the guys in work shirts, checkered pants, and clogs to keep up the good work and don’t stop fighting!
enter Chef T. is a UWF student and a working-class culinary professional proudly serving the community for 12 years.