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But as any veteran gambler will tell you, "everyone" never wins. And certainly, not everyone is enamored with Nashville's new armada of rolling restaurateurs.
Talk to most food truck operators, and they'll tell you they aren't out to run less agile establishments into the ground. "We're trying to be real cool," says Riffs' Lofback. "I don't want to disrespect another man's business." Similarly, The Grilled Cheeserie's De Luna-Bogan says, "I would never park in front of a restaurant — you should never do that."
But there has been conflict. At Cummins Station — a location both Riffs and The Grilled Cheeserie have tried — Lofback says, "I had a brief encounter with a restaurant owner there who was ridiculously rude to me."
It's understandable that an established restaurant might dislike a drive-by competitor pulling up unbidden. And parking in front of Cummins Station is, for all intents and purposes, parking in front of a restaurant — for one, Wild Wasabi, with its sushi lunch buffet, is situated there, along with some smaller lunch spots.
"I'm not totally opposed to these guys coming around and doing stuff," says Paul Koumanelis, owner of Pizzereal in East Nashville, "but not when they're going to sit outside my business and pick off clientele who would normally come here."
Food truck supporters counter that someone with a hankering for their favorite dish in their favorite corner booth isn't going to about-face just because a truck happens to be parked across the street selling something different. Successful restaurants with good concepts and loyal clientele, the argument goes, have nothing to fear from food trucks. "Iron sharpens iron," as one food truck defender on the East Nashville community listserv put it: Competition makes every competitor better and weeds out the less inspired.
"Margot's not worried about food trucks," De Luna-Bogan says, referring to the innovative East Nashville eatery. She adds that one day The Grilled Cheeserie ran out of bread in the middle of a service, and workers at nearby Marché supplied her with more. (Both businesses use the same brand.) She says her business has ample support from local chefs, including Tayst's Jeremy Barlow and Cha Chah's Arnold Myint. "It's the people who feel threatened by other businesses who seem to be complaining," she says. The Five Points area of East Nashville in particular, with its concentration of bars, restaurants and late-night foot traffic — an ideal bottleneck of hungry stragglers who might be enticed by chalkboard-sign specials on the side of the road — has become a flashpoint.
"It recently got out of hand when multiple giant eyesore trucks began parking in front of bars and restaurants without asking permission and cranking on their loud generators," says Todd Sherwood, owner of The 5 Spot. Too many trucks, parking too close together too often, can become a nuisance. But it's not that the food trucks are necessarily a problem in and of themselves: "The 5 Spot will always support the good ones and always allow them on our property for busy late nights and special events," Sherwood says.
"I'm looking to support any local Nashville businesses," adds Johnny Shields of The Green Wagon, the eco-friendly general store at Forrest Avenue and 11th Street, "as long as they're a respectable business."
At least one other area business feels differently — or at least holds a higher bar for respectability.
On the night of June 10, just a few weeks after Eat St. filmed its segment with Barbie Burgers — the hot-pink burger-slinging camper bedazzled with plastic doll parts — just outside Red Door East, Metro police were summoned to a nearby stretch of asphalt. Officers from East Precinct, who according to Metro Police were responding to a complaint from an area business, approached a food truck, told the operators they weren't allowed to be there, and asked them to leave. The truck moved, and no citation was issued.
But for the most part, the intended message of that visit from police seems to have hit its mark: "A lot of trucks are steering clear" of Five Points, says Laura Myers, of the Happy Eating food truck, which specializes in Japanese cuisine.
"At some point, we're going to have to start some sort of food truck association," says Taste of Belgium's Perkins. "It is just a matter of time before a group of businesses say, 'We don't like this — we need to legislate them out of business.' "
Some businesses clearly are unhappy with the growing presence of food trucks. But it's not just about unwanted competition, according to Pizzereal's Koumanelis. "At the end of the night, they turn the key, the truck drives away, and the people they've all sold their food to leave their trash wherever they leave it," he says. "Some of them are responsible ... and put it in barrels, some of them don't." In addition to the garbage and noise — and in some cases, obstruction of his signage by large vehicles — Koumanelis says, "I've even had people walk from those trucks up my front stairs, and sit down on my patio in my chairs, starting to eat their food they bought from a truck."
Pizzereal's business has suffered, Koumanelis says, at the hands of even smaller businesses with much lower overhead and startup cost. But more than that, it's a matter of respect. "I consider myself a pretty open-minded guy," Koumanelis says, "but right is right."
In some cases, the conflicts that arise are as much due to confusion as anything, because understanding of the law varies widely. For example, one food truck vendor tells the Scene, "Legally, I can park in any parking spot and sell — except for what would be the best places for me to do so, which is downtown." But Koumanelis asserts that, as he understands the law, "It's illegal to sell from a public right of way anywhere in the city except for designated areas, and the only designated areas are downtown."
Trucks like the various Tacos y Mariscos Lopez vehicles around South Nashville — parked for a season or longer in the same spot — require a permit, but that doesn't apply to trucks that can roll up and be gone in a few hours. And it makes a difference whether a food truck parks on private property or in a public right-of-way. And on top of that, it makes a difference how the neighborhood — or even the specific block — is zoned. For instance, the truck that was asked to leave Five Points on June 10 was parked illegally in front of the library, but Metro police say had they been parked in front of Red Door East just a block over, they'd have been in the clear. Confused yet? You're not alone.
Here's what the rules actually say:
On the one hand, section 13.08.040 of the Metro code states: "No person shall stop, stand or park any wagon, pushcart, automobile, truck or other vehicle, or erect any temporary stands, signs or otherwise, upon or within any public property of the metropolitan government for the purpose of selling or offering for sale any goods, food, wares, merchandise or products of any kind."
On the other hand, the "Regulations for Temporary Sidewalk Encroachments (Street Vendors and Temporary Signs)" allows for exceptions to that rule, noting that having temporary vendors on public ways — which would include delicious tacos and other noshes available from a streetside truck — "promotes the public interest by contributing to an active and attractive pedestrian environment." However, those regulations, adopted in 1998, "do not address motor-driven vendor sales," according to Gwen Hopkins-Glasscock, public information liaison for Metro Public Works. "We plan to put this item on the agenda of the [Traffic and Parking] Commission's August meeting."
The rubber meets the road Monday, Aug. 8, at 3 p.m. in the M.H. Howard Conference Room of the Metro Government Office Building, 700 Second Ave. S.
Even though tempers have flared here and there over food trucks and the turf they cover, one intriguing solution may be in the offing. As cities around the country grapple with how to handle growing numbers of food trucks on their streets — The New York Times reported last week that police have begun systematically ousting food trucks from midtown Manhattan — fans and supporters are looking for ways to reach a balance point.
Holley Seals has just such an idea for Nashville.
Seals worked on The Grilled Cheeserie truck alongside her cousin, owner Crystal De Luna-Bogan, before embarking on her latest quest: Wanderland Urban Food Park, which would be a permanent location where a revolving cast of eight to 10 food trucks could park every day and serve hungry customers. She imagines a place that becomes an integral part of the neighborhood, with a common seating area and maybe even Wi-Fi, or live music. "I'd want it to be as green as possible," she says, and "a place where people can come and hang out ... a place for community-building." It wouldn't be a place to drain the free-roaming spirit from the tanks of Nashville's food truck scene, she says — far from it — but rather a dependable hub for the trucks that "brings value to the community." Since Wanderland would assume any liability, Seals is hoping it would help ease some of the anxiety over codes that has made some businesses reluctant to host trucks, and left truck operators nervously checking their mirrors. She says she's currently in talks with neighborhood associations around the city, and hopes to at least have a temporary location in place by the end of the summer.
And while there are already multiple multi-truck events around Nashville each week — the farmers' markets are full of "our people," as Riffs' Lofback puts it — be on the lookout for more. "I would love to see Nashville do an event where all the food trucks can come together," Happy Eating's Myers says, a wish Seals is working to fulfill. In the meantime, some of Nashville's most accessible made-to-order cuisine can be found zig-zagging through traffic, rolled up on lawns and sidled up to sidewalks around the city — moving crucibles of the city's culinary and entrepreneurial energy.
Click here to download a PDF of some of Nashville's food trucks and their Twitter handles.
I wonder if the News-Sentinel will dare have a photo of Jimmy Haslam in cuffs…
"Some people don't understand blog versus hard news."
Projection at its finest!
Jim, you certainly are an expert on FICTION!!!
@xray: do Little Jimmy's attempts ever come out as anything else?
Pathetic is his…
EBT cards are designed to buy only foodstuffs, Adam. It is illegal to purchase "…