Feb 7, 201310:08 AM
Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

New Orleans' Food Truck Debate

You may remember a bit of controversy a year or so after Katrina, when folks started objecting to the mobile food operations that had sprung up largely to serve the thousands of workers who'd come here from Central and South America. Many of those early trucks have left, but lately New Orleans has been host to a new breed of movable eateries. These are typically operated by young folks, some of them professionally-trained chefs, and the food they're serving tends to be more eclectic. There's another dispute these days, this time over whether to loosen existing restrictions on mobile food vendors in New Orleans. City Council President Stacy Head has introduced legislation that would double the potential number of mobile food vendors in the city, increase the hours they could stay in one location from 45 minutes to 4 hours, and allow them to set up within 50 to 100 feet of existing restaurants instead of the current 600 foot boundary. The proposed changes are being fought by a lot of brick and mortar restaurants, and the opposition is being spearheaded by the Louisiana Restaurant Association.

 

I suppose I should mention at this point that Stacy Head is a friend, and I am a member of the LRA. Neither of those facts are relevant, mind you. I can see both sides of the argument regardless of who is presenting it. From a consumer's perspective, it must seem as though the more outlets for food, the better. That's certainly been the way I've looked at it for many years. Look at how many restaurants we have these days compared to five or 10 years ago. Consider how many of the new restaurants are cooking excellent food. Who wants to argue against having more, better options when it comes to dining out?

 

Many existing restaurateurs do, and if you think that's a selfish position on their part, you try opening a restaurant some time. It's a tough, tough business, even in a town famous for residents who know and love good food. Margins are tight, rents are high and often so are the staff, and the hours are incredibly long. It's a business people enter because they are called to it, in many cases. So I think we can all understand why someone who has poured her life into a restaurant that just breaks even most months would be upset if a food truck pulled up 50 feet away and started poaching customers.

 

My guess is that some restaurateurs aren't concerned about competition from food trucks. I couldn't see Nathaniel Zimet of Boucherie, who came to notice in New Orleans for the big purple truck he and partner James Denio parked outside of Tipitina's, worrying much if a food truck set up a block away from their joint. But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe owning a brick and mortar establishment has given Zimet and Denio a different perspective. I should probably ask them, or something. (What? If you're disappointed with the level of journalism displayed in this blog, by all means demand a refund). 

 

It's a sticky wicket, to be sure. I am certain there's a compromise to be had, and that someone wiser than I will figure it out. As a general statement of principle, it's non-controversial to say that the more good options we have for dining, the better. If an increase in new good options would only detrimentally effect bad restaurants, who could really complain? In an ideal world, there's there's a solution to this debate that achieves that result.

 

But this is New Orleans. I love this City, but we couldn't even keep the goddamn lights on in the Superdome during the Superbowl. I don't think we qualify as “ideal,” is what I'm saying. Still, there are smart people working on this, so if we don't achieve nirvana, perhaps we'll get something that leaves everybody at least a little bit content.

 

In other news of on-the-go food, Cochon Butcher is offering what they call the Butcher Parade Snack Pack for the Carnival season. It looks like the basis for a fantastic picnic lunch, assuming you have adequate libations on-hand to accompany, and at $20 it's a good deal. Here's what the press release says with/re: the contents:

 

Each pack contains:
1/4 lb salami
1/4 lb beef jerky
1/2 pint pimento cheese
1/4 lb pickles
house-made crackers

 

The kids at Cochon Butcher make some mean charcuterie, so you may consider picking up a pack or three for Fat Tuesday. Throw in some good cheese, a baguette, a few apples and a prostitute, and you've got the makings of a good time, my friends. (Note: Prostitute may cost more than $20. Prostitute should cost more than $20.) Cochon Butcher is located at 930 Tchoupitoulas St., and you can call them at (504) 588-7675.

 

I hope you have a happy Carnival; if you check out a food truck during a parade, let me know in a comment or by email. I'm particularly interested in how the new crop of trucks impacts the food options on parade routes.

Reader Comments:
Feb 7, 2013 11:33 am
 Posted by  LBMahana

The City Council in Atlanta went around and around about the issue of food trucks for a very long time. Debate after debate around the same issues you expound upon in your article.
The issue was resolved after a Food Tuck Park was opened in a central location in the city. It is open 7 days a week with sufficient parking as well as outdoor seating. A wonderful variety of trucks rotate daily and offer patrons a cross section of eating options. It is extremely successful and past issues have been resolved.
The Atlanta food trucks now have a home and the park is a win win. New Orleans may want to consider same.

Feb 7, 2013 11:04 pm
 Posted by  djbf

Fast food establishments have more to fear from food trucks than traditional restaurants.

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Haute Plates

Our weekly blog on the New Orleans fine dining scene

about

Robert D. Peyton was born at Ochsner Hospital and, apart from four years in Tennessee for college and three years in Baton Rouge for law school, has lived here his entire life. He is a strong believer in the importance of food to our local culture and in the importance of our local food culture, generally. He has practiced law since 1994, and began writing about food on his website, www.appetites.us, in 1999. He mainly wrote about partying that year, obviously.

In 2006, New Orleans Magazine named Appetites the best food blog in New Orleans. The choice was made relatively easy due to the fact that Appetites was, at the time, the only food blog in New Orleans.

He began writing the Restaurant Insider column for New Orleans Magazine in 2007 and has been published in St. Charles Avenue, Louisiana Life and New Orleans Homes and Lifestyles magazines. He is the only person he knows personally who has been interviewed in GQ magazine, albeit for calling Alan Richman a nasty name. He is not proud of that, incidentally. (Yes, he is.)

Robert’s maternal grandmother is responsible for his love of good food, and he has never since had fried chicken or homemade biscuits as good as hers. He developed his curiosity about restaurant cooking in part from the venerable PBS cooking show "Great Chefs" and has an extensive collection of cookbooks, many of which do not require coloring, and some of which have not been defaced.

Robert lives in Mid-City with his wife Eve and their three children, and is fond of receiving comments and emails. Please humor him.

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