By Ben Goldberg
We literally love to take a bite out of the Big Apple. New York City’s colorful culinary scene features some of the best food from around the world, whether it be in a restaurant, food truck, or one of the many food trucks that offer everything from delicious lobster rolls to Korean-style grilled dishes. With newly passed laws – the Street Vendor Bill, intro. 1116 – There will finally be more than 4,000 new grocery vendor licenses in the counties in 10 years, and the real work begins to reform a broken system and contain an underground market for grocery vendor licenses.
The biggest question that remains, however, is who exactly will carry out this reform.
The laws passed by the city council provide for the formation of a Street Vendor Advisory Board to help set up and provide a framework for the issuing of licenses. Members of the board include representatives from city government, the business community, and the street vendor community. Four of the 15 places are reserved for members of the street vendors’ community.
As a former food truck operator, I know firsthand the challenges suppliers face when trying to run their business successfully. My first job after graduating from college was selling Belgian-style french fries with gourmet dipping sauces from my truck, The Frying Dutchmen. The hours were long and the parking tickets added up, but the satisfied looks on the faces of New Yorkers were invaluable. I quickly learned that food trucks themselves are a great opportunity to bring this diverse and ambitious community together. This inspired me to found the New York Food Truck Association (NYFTA) with the mission of promoting and expanding our food truck community through strategic partnerships and events.
And that’s one of several reasons why one of the four vendor positions on the Street Vendor Advisory Board should be a representative of the food truck community. Our other reasons are:
We also feel the pain. Like our friends in the food cart and stationary communities, food trucks are feeling the economic pressures of the pandemic. A good number of food trucks have typically settled in front of office buildings that have been mostly empty for almost a year, and it will be some time before those buildings are back to full capacity before the pandemic. Food trucks should also be part of the recovery interview.
Food trucks create thousands of jobs and bring valuable tax revenue to the city. Our 75 members, who represent over 100 food trucks, generate $ 15 million to $ 20 million in taxable revenue for the city coffers. And the majority of food trucks, including all of our members, abide by the rules.
There are precedents for the city to support food trucks. When Hurricane Sandy devastated our shores, the New York City Mayor’s Fund gave $ 1.8 million in contracts to feed hungry, powerless New Yorkers and those who lost their homes with much-needed meals .
It’s about justice. Much of the chatter was about food trucks, but food trucks are also included in the cap increase and embedded in the stuff that makes New York City great. A major focus was on the allocation of space for restaurants and shop fronts via Open Restaurants, Open Streets and Open Storefronts. If we really want justice, the food truck community should be legally given the same opportunities both in the advisory board and in the context of these programs.
We can mobilize quickly in emergencies. This is true even at the height of the pandemic, when we donated more than 275,000 meals to feed key workers as part of our Frontline Food Trucks initiative. We also partnered with World Central Kitchen and Bloomberg Philanthropies to sponsor multiple food trucks and deliver free groceries to the front lines.
Eat safely during a pandemic. Our food trucks are primarily aimed at New Yorkers who are starving for safe, social interactions including outdoor dining. Food trucks have the logistical ability to support socially distant outdoor events when more people are vaccinated.
Examine the needs. We’re excited to hear that the New York Department of Transportation is currently conducting a survey on food truck zones. It’s important to get this right and to provide food trucks with a fair and equitable opportunity to sell their groceries without having to arrive at 3 a.m. to secure a prime spot. We can also serve districts with parking capacity, which are food deserts in their own right.
New Yorkers are hungry for opportunity. It is something that many of us have longed for over the past year. As the city comes back to life, food trucks offer tremendous value in terms of opportunity, resilience, and access to gourmet food at reasonable prices. Members of this new body who will help dictate street vendor reform should hear daily the challenges our vendors and their employees face. This includes a driver, Dom Tesoriero, the owner of The Mac Truck and a NYFTA member. For him, “New York City is the best place in the world, but also one of the most challenging environments. Something must be done to recover from this pandemic or our industry will get into great trouble. “
To achieve true supplier reform everyone needs to have a seat at the table, including food trucks.
About Ben Goldberg
Ben Goldberg is President and Founder of the New York Food Truck Association. On Twitter @ NYFTA1.
This post was previously published on Gotham Gazette and is being republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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