Food

Is There a Burgeoning Food Truck Backlash?

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While Tom Colicchio’s appraisal of the “mobile restaurant thing” as the worst current food trend undoubtedly didn’t go over well with those with mobile restaurants, the sentiment seems to have some traction out in L.A., where observers of the food-truck scene are fretting that it’s gone too mainstream and corporate.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, there’s grumbling among members of the food-truck community that some truck owners are selling out. As one entrepreneur says, “The problem came when the other commissaries and truck owners saw money and basically just prostituted the whole culture.”

The article goes on to finger copycat trucks, The Great Food Truck Race, and trucks from corporations like Jack in the Box and Pinkberry for transforming “what was once an exciting, underground food scene driven by a punk rock aesthetic and an exploratory mentality” into a “mainstream, bottom-line-obsessed maze of infighting and politics.”

And then there’s the feeling, too, that “many entering the business have no culinary experience but expect to make a fortune.”

In reading about the issues with Los Angeles’ food-truck scene, it’s difficult not to compare them to New York’s. Certainly, like L.A., we have an “increasingly saturated marketplace,” and everyone, no matter how much they wax poetic about their God-given mission to bring their lovingly crafted products to the masses, is likewise obsessed with profit — given the outrageous costs of running any kind of food business here, who wouldn’t be?

And it’s easy, too, to look at the ever-growing number of trucks, from restaurants, beer companies, and Los Angeles itself, and not feel slightly perplexed. Are we a city that really demands three gourmet grilled cheese trucks? And isn’t it a bit arrogant to organize something billed as the city’s first food truck rally when a) every other weekend seems to bring one of these events, and b) Roosevelt Avenue taco trucks and the Red Hook ball-field vendors have been doing more or less the same thing for years, but without the attendant fanfare and media attention?

There are, of course, plenty of differences between New York’s and L.A.’s food trucks, on both cultural and technical levels — our permitting system is different, and L.A.’s taco trucks have a long and rich history that lends completely different context to the current issues in that city’s food-truck scene. Still, when Roy Choi, the founder of Kogi BBQ and a man who knows from fanfare, tells the Times that food trucks “will thrive and grow only if people ‘get past the hype’ and embrace the trucks culturally,” he could just as easily be talking about New York. There may be gold in those grilled cheese sandwiches, but what’s their cultural currency?

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