New website, talks, law keep Pittsburgh's food truck scene moving forward


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Pittsburgh's fledgling food truck scene is moving forward.

Pittsburgh city councilman and expected mayoral candidate Bill Peduto says his office has been looking at laws governing the trucks -- laws that operators say protect bricks-and-mortar restaurants and make it impossible for trucks to sell their wares while parked on the streets -- and will have draft legislation for the public to consider in time for a food truck rally set for 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Big Brothers Big Sisters parking lot at 5989 Penn Circle South in East Liberty.

That event is being promoted by a new umbrella group, PghMobileFood, and website, pghmobilefood.com, that helps the hungry track the trucks while pushing for changes in laws. As the site notes, it's all about "Freeing food trucks to feed the people."

To that end, the group is sponsoring two "food truck education events" at Bar Marco in the Strip District, which has been nurturing local food trucks by holding a Food Truck Friday roundup in its parking lot each Friday since Aug. 17.

Now, Franktuary restaurant, Downtown, which also operates a hotdog truck (and is opening a new restaurant in Lawrenceville), has teamed up with Saxifrage School and the Institute for Justice to present these two events titled "How to Change a Law."

Last night the group was to present "Food Trucks 101: Competition Law and the Constitution." Several vendors were to be inducted into PghMobileFood, complete with a "noble mobile creed" of best practices. Presenters were to include lawyer Robert Frommer from the Institute for Justice, which has been working on food truck laws in other cities.

The next "How to Change a Law" session at Bar Marco is at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, Oct. 10, titled, "Food Truck 201: Drafting New Legislation." The presenter is to be Matt Barron, Mr. Peduto's policy director.

Mr. Peduto says his office has been involved with food truck issues going back to when the vendors had to be moved from Oakland's Schenley Plaza back in 2005, and has been a main contact point for the new breed of operators and aspiring ones.

He says his legislation would fix many problems, from permitting, which he says needs to be streamlined, to extending hours (trucks currently cannot operate after midnight, even though there is a market for them then and most restaurants are closed). The current law also says a truck has to move every 30 minutes. "It just makes it completely impossible."

The new law also would address where trucks can and cannot operate -- whether they can operate near restaurants at all, or only during special events.

"We put together the basis of a best model legislation," Mr. Peduto said, incorporating findings from the food truck hotspots of Portland, Ore.; El Paso, Texas; and Minneapolis; as well as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

He said release of that draft legislation "will start a public process" for not just business owners but also the community at large to consider.

"Our goal is very simple," he said. "We want to make it easy, make it available ... Our role is to be able to facilitate this industry so it can follow the rules, so the industry can grow."

So the PghMobile Food events at Bar Marco are more for those in the industry, but Ms. Lindsey said she hopes they attract anyone who's interested in being part of reforming the laws. "We definitely want it to be a process where lots of people are giving their input and feedback."

Meanwhile, the ranks of Pittsburgh's food trucks and carts, many of which are listed on the pghmobilefood.com site, are growing. Ms. Lindsay said she and Mr. Tobisch hear from people weekly, though some "fizzle" when they look at the laws. But new trucks continue to start up: Local hamburger chain BRGR, with restaurants in East Liberty and Cranberry, launched a brand-new food truck last weekend.

BRGR got the truck this past Thursday and it debuted Friday at Bloomfield's Little Italy Days. Then on Monday, it debuted Downtown at Forbes Avenue and Grant Street during lunch (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.). On weekends, the truck is to operate on Penn Avenue in the Strip District across from Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. It's also available for catering, serving the same burgers, fries and shakes as the restaurant.

"As brand recognition, it's a great advertising piece," says Brian Pekarcik, chef/owner of BRGR and Spoon. "And we expect that it will drive customers to our restaurants."

The BRGR truck also may join Food Truck Fridays at Bar Marco, where co-owner Bobby Fry says he hopes that gathering continues into the fall. "But, in reality, the ultimate goal is to have the city embrace the culture and quality employment that food truck freedoms will add to Pittsburgh."

food

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930 and Twitter: @bobbatzjr; Marlene Parrish: marleneparrish@earthlink.net or 412-481-1620. First Published October 4, 2012 4:00 AM


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