Food Trucks Get Unfriendly Reception in Detroit

Saturday, July 9th, 2011

You know, if I were a city politician in Detroit, I’d be working like hell to make the city as business-friendly as possible.

Yet . . .

Jeff Aquilina and partner Justin Kava — chef veterans of Matt Prentice’s restaurant operations — were inspired by effusive magazine articles, like one in Time last year, that described how gourmet street food sold from mobile trucks had become a multimillion-dollar business in Los Angeles. But when they revved up their $60,000 kitchen on wheels on the streets last month, they soon discovered that “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” in Metro Detroit were empty words when it came to selling fried pickles (“frickles”) and a Southwest brisket taco served in a crisp won-ton shell with yellow tomato salsa for $6.95.

Licensed by Wayne County, eager to pay fees and follow rules, the pair quickly hit a wall of regulations and resistance, including Detroit ordinances that essentially ban mobile food operations from anywhere near the downtown stadiums or central business district.

“They’re basically not allowed anywhere,” says Chris Gulock, a staff member now drafting a new ordinance for the city’s planning commission.

The rules prohibit even a fully inspected and licensed restaurant on wheels from public and private property in Detroit, as the law has been interpreted . . .

Restaurant owners, who are invested in fixed locations and costly operations, are loath to welcome mobile trucks that can scoot in for events and wheel away when business gets slow.

Detroit’s planning commission will hold a public hearing on the issue at 5 p.m. Thursday at Focus: HOPE. But an ordinance change will take two or three months at best, says Gulock.

Entire article here. Hat top: Nick Cheolas.

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16 Responses to “Food Trucks Get Unfriendly Reception in Detroit”

  1. #1 |  Franklin Harris | 

    Is it wrong that all of my sympathy dried up when I read they called fried pickles “frickles”?

  2. #2 |  JS | 

    Do away with licensing altogether.

  3. #3 |  Robert | 

    Same thing is happening here in Asheville NC. Food trucks want to come in but fixed position restaurants are fighting them tooth and nail.

  4. #4 |  Jason! | 

    It’s happening in Raleigh, NC, too. Fortunately Durham is nearby, and much more amenable to this sort of thing.

  5. #5 |  David Markland | 

    I just spent a few weeks in Detroit and met with a number of young entrepreneurs, and discovered that, indeed, the amount of red tape in the city is ridiculous and is probably part of the reason they’re having such a hard problem bringing in new businesses.

    However, I have to sympathize here… brick and mortar restaurants in the stadium area who have invested in a permanent presence do rely on baseball games and other special events for the bulk of their income. You don’t have be “anti-business” to be “anti-food truck.”

    Food trucks can be a great business model for the owners, but by their nature they aren’t neighborhood friendly. Perhaps if they set up an operations base in Midtown Detroit, or a single brick and mortar location there, then used the truck as a satellite operation, the city would be more amenable. But for now, as far as local business goes, they’re poachers.

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The problem with Detroit is that they are in total denial about what they’re doing wrong with regard to, well, every-fuckin’-thing. Which is why I have absolutely zero sympathy for the city or the state.

  7. #7 |  jselvy | 

    Well, detroit should run the rest of the businesses [read employers] out as well.

  8. #8 |  ThinkAnarchy | 

    “Restaurant owners, who are invested in fixed locations and costly operations, are loath to welcome mobile trucks that can scoot in for events and wheel away when business gets slow.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not fascism? The whole business owners using the government to prevent competition anyway.

  9. #9 |  scott | 

    “Restaurant owners, who are invested in fixed locations and costly operations, are loath to welcome mobile trucks that can scoot in for events and wheel away when business gets slow.”

    The practical effect here is that restaurant owners in fixed locations can compel potential customers to travel an unnecessary distance to get a meal. businesses are made for customers, not customers for business. If your business model has been broken by a better model, that’s tough, sure, but it’s no ones problem but your own. It’s not your competitors problem and it’s certainly not your customers problem.

  10. #10 |  Rick H. | 

    #9 scott: Couldn’t have said it better myself. There’s nothing stopping those competing restaurants from investing some capital and trying to make it in the food truck business, if that’s where the action is. Or maybe, within their current business model, offering an experience to the customers that is perceived as more valuable than standing on a sidewalk eating off a cardboard plate.

    Businesses will evolve to better meet customer desires, or they will fail. “Problem” solved.

  11. #11 |  Big Boy | 

    Detroit, a decaying, dying city, should WANT any business that is stupid enought to seek to locate there. As the city sweerls down the toilet pipe, the leaders drink mint julips on the first class promanade (nicely mixed metaphors).

  12. #12 |  MPH | 

    I recently worked in the Detroit area for 8 years. I watched, at a short distance, the people of Detroit reelect Kwami Kilpatrick (sp?), someone who was obviously ripping them off. I also recall a retired millionaire who had spoke out publicly about returning to Detroit, where he grew up and got his start, because he thought he could help the city. He was told by a councilwomen that they didn’t want him because, essentially, he wasn’t black. He retired to FL instead.

    Detroit has been run by Democrats for longer than I have been alive. It’s population, according to the 2010 census, is lower now than 100 years ago. Parts of Detroit could pass for Berlin, in May 1945. Yet the people of Detroit keep electing people whose attitudes about obviously failed policies is: Do it again, only HARDER!

    The people of Detroit have done this to themselves. Detroit is a dying city. Hold it up as an example of what “progressive” policies lead to, but let it die. The people of Detroit should be allowed to enjoy what they have done to themselves.

  13. #13 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    MPH – Right. You’ve got plenty of land, it’s not like you’re a crowded island, or even continental Europe. I’d not blame it on a general political party though, but the local opposition, who have managed not to point out the shit that’s going on. That’s their JOB, after all…

  14. #14 |  SJE | 

    Detroit is probably afraid of food trucks selling illegal front-yard vegetables from Oak Park

  15. #15 |  Joe in Missouri | 

    Land of the free my ass. What ever happened to government existing ONLY to protect our God given rights.

    Now all they do is seem to violate them.

  16. #16 |  Food Trucks Get Unfriendly Reception (Thanks to “Food Police”) in Detroit : Deadline Live With Jack Blood | 

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