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Are Gourmet Food Trucks Cheating?

Are Gourmet Food Trucks Cheating?

Back in our March online newsletter, we wrote about an emerging trend that appears to have caught on. It involves seasoned restaurant vets taking their food to the streets in specially equipped trucks. These mobile restaurants have little overhead and can be quite a force when the food offered is tasty and customers care enough to find their location. The second part of the equation is not so difficult if the truckers are hip enough to employ social networking tools to get the word out.

In that newsletter, Bob Krummert specifically wrote about L.A.-based Kogi, which serves Korean-style barbecue. Each day, Kogi fans are alerted via Twitter and the blog about the location of its two trucks. Kogi has drawn the attention of Newsweek, the New York Times, PBS and other media outlets for its efforts.

Kogi is the brainchild of Caroline Shin-Manguera, Mark Manguera and Roy Choi, who recently won a Bon Appetit award “for being true innovators as grassroots guerrilla restaurateurs.” Kogi's success can be attributed to weekly specials like Brie-stuffed French toast and kimchi puerco pupusas, in addition to its beloved short-rib tacos, wrote the editors of Bon Appetit. “When it comes to the intersection of food and technology, we love following Kogi.”

Well, it seems, not everyone loves Kogi and the cadre of food trucks popping up all over L.A. Tom LaBonge, a councilman there, says the food trucks are “unfair” to established restaurants. He has forwarded complaints from traditional restaurants to the police department, which has been issuing tickets to truck owners for minor violations. The truck owners, in turn, say the L.A. police are being used to stifle competition.

Much of the food truck action takes place on L.A.'s Westside, where up to a dozen food trucks compete daily with traditional restaurants to feed thousands of office workers. Alan Watts, senior v.p. of operations for Koo Koo Roo, told the Los Angeles Business Journal that restaurant owners in the area pay about $18,000 a month for rent and various health and safety permits. “We understand that more choices would be good for the people working there,” he said. “But we don't think it's right to just park right in front and steal business we've cultivated.”

Adam Summers, a policy analyst with Reason Foundation in L.A., says the police crackdown is wrong. “The restaurant owners should instead be trying to win customers through better food, prices and services, and embrace the competition because the free market is what we are supposed to believe in this country.”

So, the question is: Are these low-cost food trucks operating with an unfair advantage, and should regulations be created to manage where food trucks can operate? Let me know what you think at my email below.