Food fight: Pittsburgh needs to help vendors in trucks
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Onerous regulations are preventing Pittsburgh from tapping in to the latest lively trend in dining. So once again the city lags behind others, this time with a bad case of bureaucratic indigestion.
Food trucks -- with vendors offering everything from the simple joy of a hot dog just off the griddle to gourmet dishes like quail and artisan cheeses -- are a burgeoning business in cities across the country. Some are even spawning new sit-down or take-out restaurants based on their popularity and success.
But Pittsburgh is missing out because of an antiquated regulatory process that takes months, and hundreds of dollars, to navigate. Even once they're up and running, operators find it difficult to cultivate a following because they are required to move every 30 minutes and stay at least 500 feet away from any restaurant that sells the same items.
That's ridiculous and it doesn't have to be this way. Some rules are necessary, of course, but the process can and should be structured in a way that encourages rather than discourages vibrant dining options.
In Austin, Texas, more than a thousand food vendors operate, in spite of new, tighter regulations that require them to provide proof of sales tax permits, pass a fire inspection and file an itinerary of their routes.
In Manhattan, even though a New York Supreme Court ruling now bans the trucks from parking in metered spaces, creative vendors have found ways to keep their businesses thriving. Under an abandoned, elevated rail line turned park, one restaurant owner has transformed a parking lot into a 350-seat bar, where food trucks rotate in and out, offering lobster rolls, tacos, smoothies and other treats.
Nothing like that stands a chance in Pittsburgh, which restricts vendors to three types of licenses: stationary permits keep trucks confined to specific spots; special event permits allow limited sales in exchange for a sponsorship fee; and mobile truck licenses demand that the businesses keep moving and stay away from bricks-and-mortar restaurants.
In Boston, where red tape was strangling the food truck business, Mayor Thomas M. Menino led and its city council adopted new rules that made it significantly easier for vendors to operate.
Pittsburgh's leaders must do the same thing so the city can get on board with food trucks.
First Published July 9, 2011 12:00 am