Photo by Lisa Cunningham
Downtown workers flock to a food-truck roundup this past summer.
For the past five years, the Pittsburgh food truck industry has been steadily booming. What started as an entrepreneur or two looking to break into the food industry without the expensive overhead of a brick and mortar restaurant, has morphed into a new food scene where brick and mortar restaurants are looking to get into the action with trucks of their own.
At one of the many food-truck roundups throughout the month across the city, you'll see food truck staples like the PGH Taco Truck, Mac and Gold, and Burgh Bites. But you'll also see trucks from restaurants like Nakama and Franktuary.
This dichotomy is present in the debate over new food truck legislation
as well, with some brick and mortar owners supporting the lessening of restrictions on food trucks and others pushing back.
At a Dec. 8 public hearing, individuals on both sides of the debate testified before Pittsburgh City Council.
Stephanie Morales of Las Chicas, a truck serving Hispanic cuisine, challenged assertions that food trucks threaten business at brick and mortar restaurants and said that increasing opportunities for food trucks to operate will only add to Pittsburgh's reputation as a burgeoning food town.
"Pittsburgh wants to be competitive, showcasing its city, its achievements, its activities with the world. Yet by the same token, they have a choke-hold on a trend that's about to break loose here," said Morales. "What are we afraid of: competition, growth?"
Beyond issues with the competition food trucks create for restaurants, some critics expressed concern about the impact an increase in food trucks would have on the city, especially areas that are already high-traffic districts.
"We understand the need for such legislation. We understand why the city is pushing this. The food truck movement is definitely a strong economic movement, a strong entrepreneur effort," said Georgia Petropoulos, executive director of the Oakland Business Improvement District. "There have been some things we would like council to think about in terms of impact, and in particular we're talking about the Oakland business district area, which is the second most heavily congested area in the city."
Among the speakers calling for changes to the legislation was Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.
"While I agree that the city code should be amended to allow food trucks to reasonably operate, specifically allowing trucks to operate for up to four hours, the proposed legislation falls short on a number of fronts," Waldrup said.
Waldrup called on City Council to create a special district to address the unique challenges of operating food trucks Downtown. He said the proposed legislation does not address issues like traffic, congestion and pollution.
"Simply allowing food trucks to operate in one of our 500 metered spaces throughout downtown without any understanding of streets and sidewalk congestion, and how streets function, is a recipe for chaos and will create opportunities for impassible streets, [and] frustrated pedestrians, businesses and food truck operators," said Waldrup.
Tim Tobitsch, who owns Franktuary, which has multiple brick-and-mortar locations as well as a food truck, spoke at the hearing in support of the food truck legislation.
"I might not love it if a food truck was in front of my restaurant, but it might be a great publicity opportunity, and I don't know what right I have to stop someone from parking on a public street," said Tobitsch. "I just don't think the arguments against food trucks hold up. I think an unwillingness to adapt to modern food trucks is actually a disservice to Pittsburgh's residents who those of us in the service industry should be focused on pleasing. Consumers should have options. Innovation should be allowed to happen. And food trucks help achieve that goal."