Truck stop: Meeting on mobile food vendors at the Downtown Denver Partnership tomorrow

16thstreetmallmages.jpg
The 16th Street Mall has food vendors, but no trucks.
As far as Brian Phetteplace can determine, the last time the city revised the rules for mobile food vendors -- at least the rules as they applied to downtown -- was back in 1996, long before anyone anticipated the current race of food trucks. And now, as the manager of residential & retail development for the Downtown Denver Partnership, Phetteplace will be hosting tomorrow's meeting at the Partnership to get stakeholders' feedback on the food truck phenomenon, and how Denver's rules might need to be revised.

Those stakeholders include events organizers, restaurants (there are 300 downtown, by the Partnership's count), other downtown businesses, neighborhood groups, city agencies and, of course, food truck entrepreneurs.

Every food-truck owner who attended the January 26 Denver City Council committee meeting where mobile food vendors were discussed -- and the city unveiled its draft Food Truck Guide -- were invited to the meeting; Councilwoman Carla Madison, who's heading a task force on the issue, has since invited others.

Tomorrow's meeting, which starts at three, is "really just a working session for the food truck operators," Phetteplace says, "to learn what their vision for mobile food trucks is for the City and County of Denver."

There will be other discussions in the coming weeks, and Phetteplace will continue to study the issues. He's been in touch with other cities with big food truck scenes, to determine their best practices; he's also talked with the vendors on the 16th Street Mall, who pay to peddle their wares there and at other downtown events; he's looking into whether trucks can take catering gigs at offices in the downtown area where mobile food vendors are currently prohibited.

Madison will convene the first official meeting of the Mobile Food Truck Task Force at the Partnership the week of March 14; we'll keep you posted on developments.

And in the meantime, feel free to post your thoughts and suggestions below.



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20 comments
Daryl
Daryl

To add just one more point...

Restaurant owners complaining that they have employee salaries to cover, utilities, high lease payments, insurance costs, taxes, licensing and permits, all in addition to their own personal home mortgages, car payments and other bills that need to be paid is absurd. The mobile food vendors have their own costs to cover, usually all of the above, plus more.

Where salaries are concerned, mobile food vendors have employee salaries to cover also, as well as commissary dues, insurance costs, taxes, licensing and permits, in addition to their own personal home mortgages, car payments and other bills too...just like the restaurant owners above. They also need to cover things such as vehicle fuel, liquid propane and/or electrical hookups, water hookups, ice, etc., etc. I do not run a mobile food truck or restaurant, so I am not intimately knowledgeable about all of the operating costs involved with mobile food truck operations.

Both parties are small business owners. There are risks associated with starting and operating a brick-and-mortar restaurant, as well as risks associated with starting and operating a mobile food truck or rolling mini restaurant.

The trend toward mobile eateries may or may not be temporary, but it is what customers seem to want, otherwise there would not be any such mobile eateries, right?

If customers enjoy eating at a particular eatery, whether mobile or not-mobile, they will return. If you want to attract more customers, then get cracking on your marketing.

There's something to be said about seeing the same restaurant every day, or about seeing the same television ads for the brick-and-mortar eatery. It attracts customers by, if for no other reason than, sheer repetition and the fact that the place is located in the same place every day, thus being easy to find again.

With mobile food vendors, customers may not know when, or if, a particular food truck or what-have-you, will show up that day or at the regular time, if ever at all. I haven't seen television ads or heard radio ads for mobile food vendors, have you? How do they market themselves? The signage on their vehicle is their only marketing. That's tough, speaking from the point of view of someone who has worked in marketing for decades.

Well, I'm going to get a bite to eat...and I know just the place. I know it is always there, and I am very familiar with their menu choices, and I know their hours of operation, but I think I will get my order to go and eat on the run. If there were a mobile food truck in the area, I might give them a try, ...but not tonight.

Daryl
Daryl

I wonder...

...if proponents of the age-old barter and sweat system tried to get officials to curb the advancement of coinage, which eventually brought about credit lines, credit cards and electronic financial transactions.

...if the Pony Express riders tried to get officials to curb the advancement of the railroads as they saw more and more train tracks being laid.

...if the horse-drawn carriage builders and horse trainers tried to get officials to curb the advancement of the automobile as they saw more and more roads being paved, which eventually brought about over-the-road trucking and airline delivery.

...if the telegraph operators tried to get officials to curb the advancement of telephone communications as they saw more and more telephone lines being strung up, which eventually brought about the Internet, email, text messaging and cellular phones.

...if the radio stations tried to get officials to curb the advancement of television as they saw more and more television stations being built.

Some technologies were replaced, some were improved or modified because of competition, others were forced to take a smaller portion of the market. Overall, it was the consumer and society which benefitted.

I'm not saying that restaurants should step aside to mobile food vendors. Afterall, television didn't replace radio, celullar phones didn't replace landline telephones, big rig trucks and airplanes didn't replace the trains, and Skype video didn't replace face-to-face meetings just like virtual worlds didn't replace real life interactions.

I've seen some food trucks that I would cross the street to avoid, let alone ever consider eating at, just as I've seen some restaurant kitchens that should be quarantined, reclassified as hazard zones.

The thought of eating outdoors in the elements, be it a warm, sunny day or a day with rain, wind or snow still appeals to me, but eating outside also involves eating near birds, squirrels, maybe even near the more colorful members of our society, and including various allergens, surrounded by loud noises and car exhaust, but all of this does not deter me from my desire to eat what I want, where I want, basically to be allowed to exercise my food options. Sometimes, I just want to relax and enjoy the ambiance of an indoor eatery where the air is filled with music, climate control and quiet conversations away from the hustle and noise on the other side of the glass.

Most workers only have 30 to 60 minutes to eat during their lunch breaks, which includes travel time and time waiting to give your order and have it prepared, and time to actually eat something. I used to work next to a pizzeria. I love pizza, but certianly not everyday. I want choices. Mobile food vendors give me that choice.

If restaurants are worried about losing business, then maybe it is time they adapted their menus, adapted their service, adapted their marketing, or moved on. Whining and bitching about mobile food vendors taking away their customers is ridiculous. As a customer, I do not belong to any particular restaurant. I eat what I want when I have the time to be choosey, or I eat whatever I can find while pinched for time.

Operating costs can be significantly higher for restaurant owners than mobile food vendors, sure, but signing a 10-year lease would be idiotic. To complain that the climate changed around them after they signed their lease...well, boo hoo. And to say that mobile food vendors do not have to abide by the health regulations and other licensing or permit rules is just plain ignorant. In the end, the customers make or break any food establishment, just like any retail establishment. If there are enough complaints, or serious enough complaints, about any business, then the officials get involved and shut the place down or otherwise crack the proverbial whip with hefty fines and/or additional regulations. In the same vein, if customers do not like the food choices at any brick-and-mortar place or mobile food place, then they go elsewhere in search of something else.

Years ago, I had my house built in a very nice region of unincorporated Douglas County, paying a very high premium to be next to an international golf course, near "guaranteed" open space, parks and hiking/bicycling trails, etc. Guess what happened a few years afterward...yep, the open space was turned into a giant supermarket center, the hiking trails were rerouted around new roads into the area. The complaints from me and the other homeowners fell upon deaf ears.

No respectable mobile food vendor is going to park in front of a restaurant that is serving the same food, or to block the view of the restaurant. If customers do not want the food that the mobile food vendor is offering, then they - the customers and the mobile food vendor - move on.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both the brick-and-mortar establishments and the mobile food vendors. Adapt to changing times or move on, but don't try to stop progress. And by progress, I mean, whether bad or good, what customers want in their eateries.

To quote, "Can't we all just...get along?!"

Lone Mountain Truck Leasing
Lone Mountain Truck Leasing

There are many place which well to do food business by the Food truck. It is well services and good feedback of the different types of customer. I got a little suggestion by this post which is well to know about the truck food services.

Lone Mountain Truck Leasing
Lone Mountain Truck Leasing

The key is to confirm the ability to hire the whole vehicle load. These truck renting have established guidelines to an idea and a lot of room for any particular vehicle can cover.

Whatever...
Whatever...

It's pretty clear what's going on here; dirty politics at a very low level. Someone is literally getting fat off the fact that food trucks are banned from the cbd. Free food and drinks from some of Denver's finest eating establishments? Sure, why not!

gmorrison
gmorrison

I'm a little late to this discussion (apologies). One item that I hope is discussed at the meeting is that we are really talking about Street Food not Food Trucks. No one who's eaten a hot dog from a street vendor, a burrito from the vendor who services an office building or BBQ from the NZsmokinguns truck near the old Tamarac Mall on Fridays cares whether or not the food is served from a cart, out of a cooler or from a truck. They care about quality of food and availability.

By drafting a Food Truck Guide, the City of Denver has given a name to this industry. As long as the discussion stays focused on trucks then the chances of greater availability of street food in the central business district are diminished.

calhounp
calhounp

here's what I've heard: that certain truck operators won't feel free to voice their opinions if I'm there -- which is a pretty good laugh, since I've never noticed my presence inhibiting truck owners before! But in any case, since the official task force meeting isn't for a few weeks, I'm confident that we'll be able to cover the issue adequately.

calhounp
calhounp

I've been uninvited from the meeting, so I'll do my best to provide that balanced approach -- but I'll have to do it by talking to people who were allowed to attend.

Mantonat
Mantonat

Here's one thing you can't regulate by law: what people like. Denver Foodie and Another Voice, you both offer compelling arguments - compelling arguments as to why now is a great time to consider getting into the street food business. Despite efforts at regulation, competition will continue, people will keep coming up with innovative ways of making money. Yes, restaurants have to pay rent, which is why many food vendors opt for a cheaper solution. If they take business away from established restaurants, it's up to those business people to come up with ideas to attract new customers, not to turn to the government for protection. Lost opportunities in one sector turn into new opportunities elsewhere. In a few years, maybe the economy will be so strong that people will ask themselves why they are sitting on the curb eating a gourmet corndog when they could be inside a nice restaurant enjoying full service, cocktails, and a wider variety than most street vendors can provide. In the mean time, many restaurant owners are jumping into the current game with their own trucks, carts, and booths. The winner here is the consumer.

Office Foodie
Office Foodie

I don't completely agree with the previous posts. I work downtown and I love the idea of food trucks! I think that it is not fair to us (People who work downtown) to not allow these trucks downtown. Some of the trucks just sell desserts and I don't think that a 2 dollar cupcake is going to bankrupt a restaurant!! I do agree with you guys about restaurants paying more for rent and other expenses, and I can see how restauranteurs can be upset, but its not up to them to say who can open and who cant. A solution like a gathering place for these trucks sounds like a great idea. So they don't park in front of the restaurants. I know they were at the Civic Park last year and that seemed to work? And the trucks that I saw looked allot cleaner than some restaurants that I have been to downtown!In the end of it all it just seams to me that some people are only thinking about them selves and not others!

another voice
another voice

Agreed with Denver Foodie in the hopes that Westword takes a balanced approach. Food trucks are easy to 'get behind' becasue they are fun and Denver would love to think that it is more like Portland.

I don't have to have a balance approach. My desire is that the trucks get run out of town. I own a restaurant; and like many restaurant owners, pay $10,000 or more a month in rent. These trucks can park next to any restaurant for an hour, break off a huge chunk of the lunch business, then speed away to park beside to their next victim.

The reality is, most restaurants negotiate 5 - 10 year leases. When we negotiate the lease rates, 20 or 50 mobile restaurants were not in the pictures. If they were, our lease rates would have been lower as the restaurant capacity in the area would have been greater, thus lowering the market value of restaurant real estate. The trucks really are a fly in the soup of an already complex market system. They don't have to play by the same rules as traditional restaurnant owners. And as Denver Foodie pointed out, if they want to speed away becasue they know they aren't up to health code snuff at any particular moment, that's available to them also. When a health inspector comes into a restaurant, they often spend 4-6 hours picking everything apart during the rush and during prep time. In a 4-6 hour period, any inspector can find problems in EVERY restaurant (sorry general public but it's true). Why do the trucks get to operate with a different set of rules?

The trucks have a right to sell food. I just wish they would't come in and do it at the cost of traditional restaurants that have bank loans, payrolls and rent to pay. I may be in the minority, but I wish they would stick to state fairs and ballparks. Trucks may be cool at the momemt, but come on! - they aren't doing anything innovative that your favorite restaurant right around the corner isn't already doing.

Denver Foodie
Denver Foodie

It is important to note that it is Denver City Council, specifically Councilwoman Madison that's driving the conversation here. The DDP and Mr. Phetteplace are merely facilitating a larger discussion among several interests. Food Trucks, while they are currently a experiencing a resurgence, can be, if not adequately monitored, public hazards. They are essentially restaurants that can speed away from inspectors, and be difficult to trace if their products make people ill. A robust conversation is important, and I applaud the Westword for taking steps to cover the proceedings. It is my personal hope that the Westword takes a balanced approach to it's reporting of the issue, and not cast any individuals or organization as “the bad guys”.

another voice
another voice

Montonat of course has a point that free trade and competition are always going to be allowed in a capitalist society. What should not be allowed is the playing field to be adjusted capriciously. Food trucks have been popular for all of 15 seconds and there is no guaranty they will remain popular. Currently, they are not allowed on the mall. It is more of a regulation move for the city to ALLOW them than to keep the rules as they are. The city would be siding with the flavor of the month food trucks over 50 years of restaurant tradition on the mall if they change the rules.

Has anyone thought of the Main Street Zoning issues associated with Food Trucks? EVERYBODY has to comply with zoing, sign and building regulations in each part of town they do business in. Why should the trucks dance around extraordinarily expensive Historic Designation requirements as all the businesses in LoDo and The Mall deal and pay for them? Food truck prices are cheap because they don't have to deal with these issues.

I think I'll open up a traveling shoe store and park it on the mall next to the food trucks and diaper trucks and the traveling grocery stores selling canned tuna. That will look great for our city image. Maybe the next time Monday Night Football comes to town they can film that as the image they want the rest of the country to see Denver as?? I can hear Jon Gruden now talking about how he was out on the town the night before, hanging out on 16th street mall and stopped to buy some tuna and diapers for the hotel room.

another voice
another voice

Fair is when the rules don't change in mid-game. Restaurant sign long term leases before food trucks are allowed on say, the 16th St. Mall. Then, the rules change and food trucks are scattered all along the whole mall. Does anyone think the landlords of the restaurants are going to lower the rent becasue the rules got changes.

The only people that lose in this situation are the existing restaurants and the employees that get laid-off. Landlords keep collecting rent and the city collects sales tax from all food sales anyway, so they don't care.

A $2 cupcake doesn't hurt anybody, but that's clearly not what we are talking about. We're talking about doubling or tripling the restaurant capacity in any given area. The trucks don't pay a fraction of the running overhead that restaurants do. They turn the power off whenver they like.... or, they don't even have to work on the slow days. They can just sniper an area when it's busy while everybodyd else has to keep their motor running constatly - paying rent everyday, busy or slow. It's really an unfair situation. The rules of competition should remain as they are.

Denver Foodie
Denver Foodie

A cupcake truck (which Denver is lucky enough to already have) isn't a food truck. It's a delivery truck. The cupcakes are baked elsewhere. As for people protecting their interests, I agree that it certainly isn't up to the restaurants to say who may or may not open. But, unless the city listens to their concerns, the owners may vote with their feet and leave the CBD market. Personally I'd rather have a vibrant downtown with many dining options, but you can't maintian that if major changes are undertook without considering the impact on all sides.

Wakeup
Wakeup

Ha! Too bad you have to pay retail rent and have competition. You actually think that the property owners care that you have to compete with food trucks? Here's the answer: they don't. They just want your money, and if you think that an owner will lower his lease rate because he feels sorry for you, you'd better think again. If I were you I'd re-evaluate your business plan and stop whining. BTW... if you sign a 10 year lease you're an idiot.

Truck Suport
Truck Suport

Food Trucks do get health inspections and need to pass a health inspection to become certified in Denver. Trucks have to pay commissary rents, loans, insurance and taxes just like everyone else. Also trucks have fuel costs that restaurants don't and are not allowed to sell alcohol. Any good food truck operator would not park in front of a restaurant anyway, I think restaurants are missing the point. I worked in restaurants for 15 years and now own a food truck and I can tell you that there is room for both downtown and enough people working downtown to sustain a living for everyone. Thanks.

Mantonat
Mantonat

It's like the Dukes of Hazzard out there with all these food trucks speeding away from health inspectors.

Denver Foodie
Denver Foodie

A food truck painted like the General Lee would be awesome!

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