When I was growing up, food trucks (excluding the ice-cream man, of course) were only seen at construction sites, county fairs and in TV shows and movies based in New York City. Today, they are a staple of the culinary scene for most cities — and are spreading to smaller communities just like ours.
While Turlock's taco truck scene is a well-established favorite of those seeking freshly made Mexican fare, the foodie trend has taken mobile food vending to a whole new level.
I remember the overall excitement when The Cupcake Lady first came to town in 2012. As the Journal is located in the downtown area, our employees are often the first to try new eateries and the gourmet cupcakes delivered fresh daily were definitely well-received.
The popularity of Derek Walker's mobile wood-fired brick oven, Traveling Pizza, at area street fairs and events and the addition of Saucy Girls gourmet lunch truck in the downtown area made me believe that Turlock is soon to have its very own food truck renaissance.
Then Turlock resident and former U.S. Marine Christopher Shaun submitted an application to the City of Turlock to receive a permit for his new business Vida-Vital – a mobile food truck that would offer healthy food alternatives in the downtown area.
Vida-Vital sounds like it would fit in nicely with the town's growing gourmet food truck scene, and as a recently converted 'health nut' I personally am all for more healthy food lunch options. However, for the Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association, Shaun's business plans were a wake-up call to what the association members called “unfair business advantages” posed by mobile food facilities.
I'm a little confused as to why the TDPOA had no problem with The Cupcake Lady and Saucy Girls. The association's argument that downtown business owners pay a 42-cent per square foot extra property tax to help maintain the downtown area and as mobile facilities would not own a specific property in the downtown core zoning district, they would not be subject to such fees and yet would be reaping the benefits created by the businesses that do, is true for all of Turlock's current mobile food trucks.
Shaun said he would be more than happy to pay the extra downtown property tax on his food truck, if that would help smooth things over with the TDPOA. I don't know if the owners of Saucy Girls, which has a regular parking location at 415 E. Main St., would do the same. The Cupcake Lady frequents the parking lot of Latif's restaurant on Golden State Boulevard, which is technically not in the downtown core zoning district.
Aside from my questions as to the downtown property owners' sudden realization of unfair business advantages, I believe gourmet food trucks would benefit the downtown core as a whole. Mobile food vending generates approximately $650 million in revenue annually and the industry is projected to account for approximately $2.7 billion in food revenue over the next five years.
Along with the added tax revenue that food trucks would bring in, pedestrian-friendly downtown areas are a draw for tourists. Having gourmet food trucks along Main Street would encourage more foot traffic, which would in turn mean more possible shoppers for downtown businesses.
Turlock is also a natural place for a Valley food truck scene as the city is home to Catering Support Services, a full-service commissary for mobile food vendors that features 120 parking spots with electrical hookups, full kitchens, and more amenities than any other commissary in the region – and possibly the state.
Food trucks are not a passing trend; they are here to stay.
I agree with the TDPOA that the city's regulations regarding food trucks should be reviewed. The National League of Cities recently released a report on best practices for integrating food trucks into the community and the report's recommendations would be a good place to start (http://www.nlc.org/Documents/Find%20City%20Solutions/Research%20Innovation/Economic%20Development/FoodTruckReport2013_Final_9-26.pdf#!).
However, it needs to be done with the goal of embracing the mobile food industry, not regulating it out of town.