Simmering discussion: South Lake Tahoe brainstorms possible impacts from food trucks
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Business owner Sonney Bruning has been operating his barbecue restaurant near the Y for nearly five years and he’ll be damned if a food truck is going to park across the street and open up shop.
That’s not to say he’s completely against food trucks operating on South Shore, but his concerns — mainly the potential impact on brick and mortar restaurants — came through loud and clear Thursday night at a workshop hosted by the city.
About 20 people appeared for the night session, the same approximate amount that showed for the afternoon session, to brainstorm about possibly easing the regulations that block food trucks from operating within city limits.
Bruning’s fear that if food trucks are allowed to operate in the city and not regulated properly, he could see one pull up and start selling their goods right next to his business and slice into his livelihood.
“What if I was able to come up with a truck and rent a spot at say a liquor store for $50 a week, hey, $50 a month because I know the guy and we’re friends,” Bruning said following the workshop. “And I sell parts, door knobs and screwdrivers for 50 percent less, which is great for the consumer. Well, I don’t have to pay fire insurance or inspections whatever. … So my thing is this, if I pull across from Scotty’s (True Value Hardware) in a hardware truck, I’ll tell you what, s*** would be flying. People would be freaked out.”
Bruning thinks the city should let current businesses have the first shot at operating food trucks before allowing any others into the city. He says it probably costs $70,000 to invest in a food truck whereas he says he has $750,000 invested into his business.
“If I am for it, I’d say give restaurants the first crack at it,” said Bruning, who also wished the city would allow him to have a drive through at his restaurant. “I would do that (invest in a food truck) to stop someone else.”
Luca Genasci, owner of Tahoe AleWorX, likes the idea of food trucks but doesn’t want it to impact brick and mortar restaurants and thinks there are ways that the city can mitigate risk.
“I love the idea of enhanced culinary scene, but I don’t want it to happen at the expense of existing businesses,” Genasci said. “I’m a millennial. I come from the mindset where we’re trying to be trendy and we’re trying to enhance all areas of the market place. I’m all for it and I’m also very vested in a brick and mortar operation. So it’s how do we make this work that it doesn’t consistently have a negative impact on local businesses.”
Some of Genasci’s suggestions included making the food trucks an event, where maybe a dozen or so would gather at one location. He said the city could regulate everything from public safety and health code enforcement while also charging for entry into the event.
He also said some brick and mortar businesses that avoided the capital expenditure of adding a kitchen on their startup could reap the benefits of a “food concept” if a mobile vendor was to park near.
“Maybe they can keep people around to drink another beer or two and all of a sudden their $14 tab just went to $28,” Genasci said.
Which would suit South Lake Brewing Company owner Nicole Smith, a food truck proponent, who called for eased regulations at a recent city council meeting that the Tribune previously reported on.
SLBC opened without a kitchen and does not serve food, but does host mobile wood-fired pizza catering company, Oven. Oven operates under a catering license.
But Smith also called for additional public comment when she learned that a chamber of commerce survey of 80 owners showed mixed results.
The city’s existing mobile vending code doesn’t allow for a long-term operating license for parking and selling food around the city, even on private property. Anyone who wants to sell food from a truck must apply for a temporary activity permit, which cannot exceed four days.
The term food trucks used loosely also can refer to a trailer or cart. If they’re mobile and selling food, they qualify.
Some mobile food vendors, like ice cream trucks, are able to operate with a long-term permit, but are restricted to conducting business within 15 minutes at any given spot.
Each workshop session included brief presentations on regulatory practices in other areas like Truckee, Reno, Santa Cruz, Sacramento and Monterey.
City staff will take the brainstorming notes back to the office and figure out the next step.
“Personally, I think operating a food truck solely in South Lake Tahoe, doesn’t pencil,” Genasci said. “There’s just not enough business. Consistency in location and habitual customer is what makes a brick and mortar work around here, especially on the local part of town on the Y side. If you don’t have that consistency in a food truck and you’re mandated to move and stuff, yeah people will follow you but how habitually will they do it? Couple that with we get maybe four to six good business months and the rest are just keep your head above water — how does that translate to a food truck? It probably doesn’t have upside like a brick and mortar.”