Food-truck operator to city: Food trucks hurting, need more opportunities in the Back Bay, downtown

Adam Gendreau, co-owner and co-operator of the Staff Meal food truck, has penned an open letter to city officials about Boston's nascent food-truck efforts:

Despite the media portrayal that the food truck industry in Boston is thriving, the reality is that the city hasn’t implemented a system that will allow food trucks to succeed.

The problem, as I see it, is a cultural one. There has never been a street food culture in this city; we’re building one from the ground up. With that in mind, there’s a reasonable expectation that the city would shine a spotlight on this burgeoning industry in order to aid the cultural adoption on the part of both vendors and customers. The model of deciding where food trucks would be successful isn’t currently working well.

Gendreau praises city efforts, but says food-truck operators and the city should be focusing on certain heavily trafficked areas first before spreading out across the city - such as the Back Bay and the Financial District:

At the very least the city should allow multiple trucks to cluster in Back Bay. This would easily help all of us fill our schedules with spots that are known to be prosperous. It also provides multiple food options, which most people would see as being a good thing. Clustering would be a simple solution to help the food truck industry expand.

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too bad your opportunistic

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too bad your opportunistic trend-hopping bullshit didn't pan out; maybe you should open a store instead of trying to steal customers in a high-rent area

claims of "stolen" customers

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claims of "stolen" customers is about as anti-free market you can get..... you are entitled to nothing, make a better product

Compete? This is Boston!

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We don't compete here. Let's use Swrrly's beloved PDX as an example:

PDX: Food trucks get assigned empty lots like those around Columbus Avenue or Melnea Cass... or The Pit. Those lots become destinations. Food trucks thrive.

Boston: Food trucks get assigned piecemeal spaces in highly commercial areas like Back Bay and Cleveland Circle. Restaurants complain. Onerous regulations are imposed (Cleve. Circle trucks, for example, need to boast "healthy" menu items not imposed on surrounding restaurants and are limited to one day a week). Food trucks become a fad or pariah.

PDX: Starbucks are prevalent throughout the city. Stumptown Coffee chain and small coffee houses compete directly. Local coffee takes large share of market while never denying Starbucks' right to exist.

Boston: Indie coffee shops wither and die in J.P.'s Hyde Square. Construction crews suggest the renovated former Bella Luna space may be a coffee chain. Local "activists" still grousing about Whole Foods opening roll their eyes at possible Starbucks. Begin mobilizing against that possibility. Completely ignore J.P. Licks' and Paris Cafe's ability to survive and thrive near a Starbucks in nearby Coolidge Corner.

Boston is an absolute joke at times. All someone would have to do is hop a Bolt Bus, head down to Wall Street and see that in an area saturated with Starbucks, a food truck -- the Mud truck -- has the most popular coffee in the area. A great argument for both food trucks and competition with major chains. For a city forever battling to be "world class," it sure does some world-class whining on the way to that goal.

P.S. Can we please get our version of Pike Place Market at Haymarket already? That vacant market is just taunting us.

Food trucks and urban renewal

It seems to me that the food trucks are not allowed in places with the kind of traffic which supports existing restaurants. They were thought up as an urban renewal project, not a business project.

Government economic planning falls short

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News at 11. Restaurants shouldn't be insulated from competition by law. Curb trucks if they are causing traffic issues, but otherwise let the best food win.

Excessive?

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Lack of rent (thus no property tax) is one benefit. Plus, they're using public roads and utilities more so than others; being parked and all. The nature of business creates more trash too, since food is given in paper containers and other disposable wrappers.

Note: I have no idea what's reasonable or not, but just pointing out that they should be charged something reasonable since their whole business model is based on undercutting sitdown places with rent and other overhead.

Example: Boloco. I bet they could go exclusively to a fleet of trucks and greatly reduce their costs spent on rent. Nothing on their menu requires a large kitchen or seating. Many of their downtown restaurants service pickup lunch patrons mostly. But I'd argue the tax revenues and busy store fronts are better for the city and community as a whole.

Truck shouldn't get special service and subsidies because they're using roads and are doing something different. We already have too much of that going on anyways.

Excessive

For $20,000 you should get something, no?

I'm having trouble understanding why cities get to demand so much from a mobile platform - shouldn't this be a statewide initiative and licensing thing? Oh yes, that would be heresy!

True

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But rents in DTX and Beacon Hill are around $6k/month for ~1000 square feet, or $72,000 a year. Not including license fees, taxes, or overhead costs of running a physical location.

As said above too, their initial conception was to provide areas with no options a mobile and cheap way to bring food to the inner city.

But using them to completely forgo the costs of opening a street level store because it's vastly cheaper to put it in a truck... well, it kind of rubs me the wrong way to allow it on public streets.

Especially if we want to promote more shops and eateries, open at more hours of the day. DTX is already having enough problems as is, they don't need lots and lots of food trucks undercutting the the restaurants and smaller quick eat places there.

Seems like just another race to the bottom scheme, that will make some people rich but hurt the community ITLR because the problem it fixes is only the owners bottom line.

Was in NYC last summer and there was a ton of these... down on wallstreet. Chiefly because there's not a lot of street level retail and food down there, and it solves a problem for lunch hour. In contrast it appears there are few/none in the boroughs and in the areas of Manhattan where there's street level options. It seemed as if it was restricted, but it might just be self preservation (they think they can't make money over the sit down street level places?).

Bostons a bit different, especially seeing as the financial district and DTX are full of street level options already.

Do you work downtown?

If so, have you ever lived in other cities?

Full of street level options? Really? Boston's financial district is largely a blank wall of granite at the street level on every building, because Boston doesn't ever seem to have required street level retail. What I see at lunchtime is a handful of massively overpriced takeout, no grocery stores, and long lines for what little is there and affordable. I also see a lot of the less pricey lunch options have been pushed out by greedy landlords who think empty storefronts are better than thriving businesses. The trucks in Dewey Square are a huge improvement over the giant food desert.

When I've been to conferences or lived in another city, the options varied but were at worst equal to Boston. Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, San Francisco - all do far better for "street level options". Philadelphia is similar to Boston. If you are going to play the "they didn't pay enough to greedy idiots to start a food place" game, you are going to push us into the Baltimore/Detroit zone before too long. If food trucks push down rents and create pressure to rent storefronts at sustainable rents, so much the better.

cushy job

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You have time on your lunch break to wait in line at a grocery store for food? Damn, you have an understanding boss!

Cripes, step away from the

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Cripes, step away from the computer.

Plenty of us in the Back Bay go to Shaw's for takeout.

WFM on Cambdridge St.

The Whole Foods at the base of Beacon Hill does a tremendous takeout business at lunch time. They have plenty of express lanes as well.

Dewey

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is a bad location because of the RKG. There's not much street side because the central artery was there first and what is now the street front, used to be the back or side alleys under the rise.

I agree that trucks could be placed there along Atlantic Ave.

The rest of Financial District and DTX is pretty well covered with eateries at least. Not many shops in FD. and yes, there are a few roads with nothing on them, but it's far, far better than other cities financial districts I've been to. Personally, I've never had a problem finding something different to eat each day.

I do agree rents are too high from greedy landlords. I also agree that Boston needs to require ground retail space in new construction (HA! Liberty mutual just axed it from their plans after getting another favor). But I wonder if allowing these trucks were storefronts are will be counter productive to getting more places to open up. Their bottom lines are on whole different scale that might undercut other rented locations.

NM

I realized that I totally misunderstood the post I was responding to...so...move along, nothing to see here.

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I have, in fact, worked

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I have, in fact, worked downtown. Within a five block radius there's several chain fast food places, sandwich places, sushi joints, takeout places, the list goes on and on and on. DTX/Financial District is hardly lacking in places to grab a quick bite to eat.

Granted if you want a healthy quick bite to eat, that's another matter entirely, but welcome to America.

Fuck you, uptight conservative assholes

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This whole conversation is ridiculous.

Food Trucks are not threatening the existence of brick and mortar places. If anything, they are encouraging economic activity in the places they are allowed to reside. Case in point...

I had the day off today...I was going to stay at home and watch TV supporting no business but Comcast and the utility companies--it's cold outside and I'm lazy. But Staff Meal posted on Facebook their location and their new taco menu. It was inspiring enough to get me into my thermals and out the door. (So much for the theory that Staff Meal and other food trucks don't advertise enough or have good marketing strategies. Staff Meal has a clever social media strategy that makes me not only want to eat their food, but makes me want to support the guys who run the place.)

I took public transportation to get to their off-to-the side location in probably the coldest and windiest location in Boston's Back Bay. Off some shitty side street near the T Stop near no park, no benches, and not trash cans. It would've been nice to have enjoyed those delicious tacos while sitting on a bench in Copley Square looking at the Trinity Church and being able to properly throw away my trash in a close-by trash receptacle. But instead, me and my friend ended up leaning against a stairwell, eating our tacos against a concrete slab and then walking blocks before finding a trash can to throw away our waste (and don't blame food trucks for causing more waste than brick and mortar take out joints -- I see more trash from Cosi, Boloco and other chain stores littering the streets than I do unidentifiable litter any day of the week.)

Oh and after my friend and I happily ate our tacos on a concrete slab outside a major national bank instead of on a bench in a nice part next to a bunch of shops and other places to spend our money, we went out for beers at a local independent bar and then did a little shopping on Newbury Street...all brick and mortar places that I wouldn't have supported at all if it weren't for Staff Meal's tweets and tacos.

Stop defending the well-established, run-of-the-mill corporate chain lunch joints and start celebrating the innovative, local and inspired creations at your nearest (or obscurely located) food truck.

And as for you people who don't like Staff Meal's food or marketing...fuck off. Go back to the food court at Copley Mall and get your shitty slice of Sbarro pizza or Supreme Taco from Taco Bell and let the rest of us who have an taste for interesting food have creative options for our lunch break. Don't like it? Don't eat there. It's as simple as that.

And thanks to the guys at Staff Meal for offering an interesting and unique perspective on food. I love you guys -- and will buy your food wherever the assholes of Boston might banish you. Keep up the good work, the amazing cooking and the hilarious tweets!

-- A huge fan from JP.

Less regulations, but other obstacles as well

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As someone who left Boston and moved to Austin, where there are 100s of food trucks, in the past couple of months, (as a part of the brain drain), Boston is doing a couple of things wrong on the food truck front. Food trucks here are an integral part of the food culture here and not just an after thought to try to make the city cool.

Food trucks are not only seen as a cheaper and a quicker option than a traditional brick and mortar store, but often times the quality of the food is higher. Often times if the food truck is successful they will then go ahead and open up a brick and mortar store. As the petition states, yes there needs to be more food trucks in the commercial districts, but there also need to be more than 10 food trucks for the whole city. Every college could support multiple food trucks relatively easily, as well as the shopping and club districs. Also one advantage of the food truck is they can keep obscure hours like only lunch and late night. (GASP) Yes food trucks here are open after the bars close, right when you want food. Imagine leaving the Fenway bars, and having 3 food trucks to choose from to have some late night tacos before fighting for a cab.

Since more food trucks are allowed here there is also more selection of food trucks there is a greater variety of food, not just grilled cheeses. The one thing that Boston doesn't have going for it is space, to put these food trucks. But if they're serious about having food trucks, and not just trying to keep young people in their city they need to really help out the food truck industry in a real way.

P.S. I've been to the food truck in question when I worked in the Back Bay, and I never wen't again. The food was bleh.

As a sometimes chef myself, I

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As a sometimes chef myself, I can appreciate that some folks saw this as their way into a city that makes it particularly expensive and difficult to open a restaurant. Still, they seem to have forgotten the point of a foodtruck, which is namely to bring cheap, quick food to areas where it's needed, like construction sites or street fairs. IIRC the fad came out of West Coast where foodie hipsters had discovered that some of the Mexican food trucks made tasty stuff. Somewhere along the way it became a grilled cheese, Food Network fad which comes with an expiration date. I had a sinking feeling about our local foodtruck culture when I saw that Gourmet Caterers on Washington in Rosi was now operating a small fleet of grilled cheese wagons. I used to work for GC part time, there is no culinary inspiration there, pure freezer food profiteering from a place that can't even be bothered to keep their building clean.

Fad?

I've seen this going strong in what would have otherwise been vacant lots throughout Portland for a couple of decades now.

Then again, it is helped by a pedestrian/cycle culture that makes it easy to drop in or get there for lunch. Also helped by a city that looks at these things as a creative way to bring business and human activity to vacant lots rather than the latest way to extort money from "others" for the regime's pet projects.

Gourmet Caterers doesn't own food trucks.

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All food trucks are required to a have daily access to a certified commercial kitchen - available for inspection.
In Gourmet Caterers case, they rent kitchen space/access to guy who owns a few food truck franchises.

Street food culture

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Perhaps there is no "street food culture" because the idea of spending as much money on a mediocre sandwich from the back of a truck, with questionable sanitary conditions, where I stand in line in the elements (rain, sun, snow, wind) holds little appeal?

Then the logic behind allowing more trucks to do business, if none of them are doing well, is difficult to follow. "Nobody is buying our product and there aren't enough locations for us to set up and sell to nobody."

Did I get that right?

Questionable sanitary conditions

Facts? Evidence? Statistics?

Given the city of Boston's desire to keep the results of brick-and-mortar inspections secret - instead of putting them in the front window of the establishment like many cities do - that's a pretty crazy allegation you got there.

If no inspections....

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I say they're questionable because I have no facts, evidence or statistics to prove otherwise. A lack of information doesn't mean they're sanitary and it doesn't meant they're not sanitary. The level of sanitary conditions are therefore "questionable."

As for the city's desire to keep inspections secret, there was a great hoo-hah several years ago when the Mayor's Food Court opened. It listed all the restaurant inspection results. As I search it tonight I find there have been three suspensions in the last 90 days but I can't see where it shows who has been inspected in the last 90 days.

HOWEVER, and in opposition to my original statement, I found that several food trucks have had good records with only minor violations.

Yes

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Yes. #WebsitesAreNotTwitter

Why is it OK for roach

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Why is it OK for roach coaches to be all over the city and not these food trucks? Do they pay extra for being on our roads, creating garbage, etc? Fine - make them pay a small road tax or something to that effect. I personally love them. I think it's a great idea to get different types of food to all walks of life for a decent price.

I think they should have to be inspected yearly and spot inspected throughout the year - just as regular restaurants should be and aren't (hmm, job creation as we certainly do not have near as many food inspectors in this city as we need).

Another job creation is the fact that they are hiring people to work in these trucks. Why do ppl scream about needing jobs and then scream at people who are in fact giving ppl jobs? The few trucks I have tried give me great food for a great price. I like the fact that I can get vegan, vegetarian and organic dishes from some of these places. I know a few of them take their garbage with them when they leave b/c there isn't a place to dispose of it where they park their trucks.

I am born and bred here but we are so far behind in our thinking on things like this. They should be all over Rose Kennedy Greenway...maybe ppl would actually use it. God forbid maybe they could have a beer truck there as well. I would love to see these trucks in Back Bay so I could have other lunch options that won't cost me an arm and a leg.

These are small businesses and as long as they give a quality product, keep within the health guidelines and pick up after themselves there shouldn't be an issue.

Roach Coaches

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do not prepare food in their trucks. They do not park in one spot all day long. As a matter of fact they service private property ie: construction sites, factories, warehouses etc.

Staff Meal = delicious but...

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Just so it doesn't get lost in the discussion here: Staff Meal makes some outrageously delicious (and interesting and inventive) food! It's worth your while to hunt them down (with the caveat that their food tends to be heavily animal-based).

I suspect, though, that their business/marketing acumen may not be on par with their culinary skills. The name of the truck itself is kind of a restaurant biz in-joke that won't be apparent to the majority of their potential customers. They give off the vibe of very talented and enthusiastic hobbyists instead of professionals in it for the long haul.

The restaurant business is very unforgiving, even when the barrier to entry is lowered like with food trucks. With that lowered barrier also comes a lowered ceiling - it's hard to build a relationship with your clientele, and their repeat business (the lifeblood of any restaurant), when they won't always know where to find you. They aren't that many who'll wait in line in the rain or bitter cold. I'm not sure there's much that the city can do to cushion trucks against those harsh realities.

I go to the food trucks often...

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...and while I do think there is a great variety in Copley, not too thrilled with Staff Meal...nor is the long ever that long. I think because it looks like a laundry truck, and yes I get the 'inside joke' - just the food is meh.

Redbones and the dining car raaaawk!

Also, in fairness to the people who pay high rent in these areas, and the fact that it GETS COLD IN WINTER I would think food trucks would see less business in the winter time...also do we really need two griled cheese trucks? Do we really need more sandwich options in downtown - aren't 900 enough?

Here in Brookline, the town is exerting its iron fist and putting the food trucks away from the more heavily restaurant filled (and congested) areas, which I am on the fence about - I mean, I like food trucks, and think they should be allowed more freedoom, but if I was Village Smoke house and Redbones parked a block away, that would kill my lunch crowd (they make most of their money on the night time bar anyhow)

I would say a food truck would be good as a pilot, for example, if a food truck is in Brookline Village, and after a year they have such a good following, they can open up an actual storefront and get back what they paid to the town, as well as some tax credit maybe? That would allow businesses to test the waters in a certain area.

Granted, an entire restaurant devoted only to grilled cheese would most likely fail (unless funded by a guy from twitter, but that's another nerd article)

So to close, maybe you self styled hipsters like Squirtygirl should go back to Somerville, most of you can't afford $7 for a sandwich anyhow.

Just for the record, Staff

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Just for the record, Staff Meal has a retarded name. I see him often in front of the BPL, and assume it's literally food for the staff at one of the posh events happening in the library that day.

Many New Businesses Do Not Succeed

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Most likely, it would be helpful for the City to tweak their regulations.
At least half of all new restaurants don't make it beyond two years - and that's a mature business model. The new food truck market in Boston is kind of like musical chairs: too many trucks scrambling for too few sustainable spaces. This is just the natural process of new restaurants – when some owners begin to realize their dream enterprise is really a minimum wage income.