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The people of Rochester really, really want food trucks downtown

The people of Rochester really, really want food trucks downtown

News that downtown Rochester's first pizza truck has been forced out by city rules created a firestorm on social media Friday.

Here is a sample of some of the top comments:

If Rochester's end goal is making the city more appealing to visitors (DMC) then they need to think outside the box...food trucks are a staple in most large tourist friendly cities. -Natasha B.
Unfair competition because they found a smarter, more convenient way to reach the public? Sounds like a personal problem to me. Allowing other business owners to throw a public fit and take away what another entrepreneur has fairly created is ridiculous. -Kirsten F.

BB's Pizzaria had only been operating the truck for about a week before city administration informed them they were in violation of a city ordinance.

The business had an arrangement with Calvary Episcopal Church, located at 111 Third Avenue SW, to set up in a driveway on the church's property. It turned out, though, the spot is actually a public street. 

 
 

While food trucks are legal in Rochester, the city's ordinance makes it very difficult for them to operate downtown. Here are two rules, in particular, that create challenges for rolling restaurants:

  1. An operator shall not vend on a street within or immediately adjacent to any park or public facility maintained by the department of park and recreation, nor in the central business district of the city.
  2. An operator shall not vend in a single location for a period to exceed 15 minutes. For purposes of this subsection, a single location shall be deemed to be a place 500 feet or more from the last sale.

Abe Sauer, owner of Old Abe Coffee Co., said the second rule effectively makes downtown food trucks on public streets a functional impossibility.

"Obviously this rule is one of many but [it] demonstrates that few of the existing guidelines and requirements fit with the modern food truck business," Sauer said in a Facebook comment.

City Council President Randy Staver defended the need for a clear set of rules in an email Friday to the Med City Beat:

Let me play Devil’s advocate for a moment and suggest we have no ordinance.  Food trucks could then operate freely anywhere in the city at any time and in any location. I think people would very quickly say things like “Well wait, I don’t want a food truck on Broadway” or “I don’t want a food truck parked in front of my restaurant all day” or “I don’t want a food truck serving dinner items on Second Street during rush hour”.

At least one member of the council has come out in support of a change to the current ordinance. Council member Michael Wojcik said he doesn't feel food trucks are a threat to brick and mortar restaurants, and that "dozens of communities have proven otherwise."

"I think the prohibition is silly and I want those small businesses downtown," Wojcik told the Med City Beat. "They turn into the next brick and mortars."

Moving forward, Staver said he's open to constructive comments on how the city could create a better environment for food trucks. However, up until this point, he has not heard any specific rule changes mentioned.

"If the process or rules are broken, I’m struggling with what it is that folks would like to see changed that would fix it," said Staver. "My frustration stems from the idea that the city is being portrayed as the enemy here but folks haven’t told me what they want other than in fairly generic terms like ‘allow food trucks’."

Click here if you would like to contact your council member about this issue.

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(Cover graphic: The Med City Beat)

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