Tacos, hot dogs, cupcakes, pierogies—if you can cook it, there’s a pretty good chance you can find it at any one of the growing number of food trucks popping up around Pittsburgh. Thanks in large part to the popularity of the Food Network’s hit show The Great Food Truck Race which just kicked off its third season, street fare is now becoming one of the fastest growing segments in the food industry.
For restaurant owners and aspiring entrepreneurs alike, the idea of going mobile can be incredibly tempting—lower overhead, the chance to be part of the latest trend, and the ability to literally pick up your business and take it to new neighborhoods and areas that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a traditional brick and mortar location. And therein lies the rub.
A recent story in the Pittsburgh City Paper explored the growth of the local food truck and the myriad of regulations that were created as far back as 1987 to help keep street vendors in check. Beyond your typical public health safety rules, they also have to worry about where they park (metered spots are off limits), how long they park (they have to move their vehicle every 30 minutes), and what they’re near (they have to stay at least 500 feet away from a business selling a similar product.
It’s definitely easy to see both sides of the argument—restaurant owners pay a ton in rent, insurance, and utilities every month and want to protect their location and their customer base and entrepreneurs who want the ability to peddle their tasty treats without having to worry about getting pinched by local law enforcement. However, as is usually the case, all of those regulations are actually having the opposite effect.
According to the City Paper, the number of food trucks in Pittsburgh has more than doubled. Instead of keeping street vendors at bay, the rules are actually helping to create more of a mystique. Because they’re always on the move, food truck owners usually have to rely on social media channels and good old fashioned word-of-mouth marketing to alert customers to their whereabouts on any given day. The randomness of it all helps to generate buzz and excitement—just like when you were a kid and the ice cream truck would roll through your neighborhood.
So what’s the big takeaway from all of the rules and regulations? Location and access to customers is just as important in the age of social media as it was way back in 1987. For me, the bigger question is how long will it take for more traditional brick and mortar restaurants to join the fray?
What do you think? Share your thoughts below.
By: Shawn Graham