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
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.