Monday, August 15, 2011

Nashville Food Truck Association Forms to Represent Needs of Mobile Vendors

Posted By on Mon, Aug 15, 2011 at 3:12 PM

Riffs Fine Street Food, flagship of the new Nashville Food Truck Association, at 12South Farmers Market
  • Photo: Eric England
  • Riffs Fine Street Food, flagship, of sorts, of the new Nashville Food Truck Association, at 12South Farmers Market
"We didn't plan on this," B.J. Lofback of Riffs Fine Street Food says, "but it was kind of forced on us."

He's referring to the brand-new Nashville Food Truck Association, formed last night at a meeting that included some 14 mobile food vendors — several of which also run brick-and-mortar businesses.

Lofback, who spoke with Bites via phone this morning, says the impending revision of the city's parking regulations — with a particular focus on mobile food vendors — provided much of the impetus for creating a formal trade association sooner rather than later. (You may recall Taste of Belgium owner Tom Perkins mentioning just such a possibility back in June.) Lofback was among the several food truckers to make the case for mobile at last week's Traffic and Parking Commission public hearing, and was selected as the fledgling association's president. They plan to file their official association paperwork this week.

Among its goals, the association plans to be proactive in lobbying the Public Works department on behalf of mobile vendors, and as Lofback puts it, to "work cooperatively with the authorities to be involved in whatever codes and regulations come about so they are mutually beneficial." Lofback is quick to emphasize that they're not trying to steamroll anyone: "I can't emphasize enough how much we do not want to be a problem," he says.

In addition to providing "a single point of contact" for people who are interested in Nashville's vehicular food vendors, the association will strive to "make sure food trucks and mobile vendors are good neighbors." This will include working with upstart vendors and drafting a code of conduct for association members.

"One thing we can do is self-regulate our members," Lofback says.

In some ways, the Nashville Food Truck Association will simply cement an informal structure that's already in place. Lofback already regularly fields calls from people interested in or in the process of starting their own mobile food businesses.

In other ways, the association will deepen the relationships within Nashville's exploding food truck community while also providing organization and strength in numbers. In writing their bylaws, Lofback says they've borrowed language from similar associations "who have bigger problems than we do."

While Lofback sees food trucks and restaurants as peaceable competitors in Nashville's larger food scene, he understands there is opposition from some on the restaurant side. He also thinks food trucks have ample public support. "I don't think we compare to the deep pockets of the restaurant association," he says, "but they're not as connected to the people." Citing the thousands of fans and followers local food trucks have garnered on Twitter and Facebook, he says, "That's a lot of power."

And with the new Nashville Food Truck Association, Lofback and his cohorts hope they can add to that power.

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