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Posted by on Feb 19, 2010 in Commentary | 0 comments

Street vendor harrassment in California

From the video: “Taco trucks pull up to curbs and offer LA eaters everything from tofu bowls to Korean barbeque. Customers flock to them, and recently so have police officers. Truck owners report being cited for everything from parking too close to curbs to parking too far away. Sometimes officers shut them down. Why would law enforcement target taco trucks for nuisance violations? Turns out nearby restaurants don’t like the competition.”

This clash between the police, brick-and-mortar restaurants and the truck food scene is not unique to Los Angeles. The business climate is worse in San Francisco. Initial setup costs for a truck food vendor in San Francisco can be as much as $150,000, according to the organizers of San Francisco Street Food Festival. Food and business permit costs an additional $10,000 per year. With those high-start up costs, one marvels at how most of these trucks can keep their costs down to less than $8 per dish.

One Korean fusion taco truck vendor called Seoul on Wheels wasn’t able to overcome San Francisco’s regulation structure. Julia Yoon now does most of her business on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. She started operating in and around Emeryville, Calif., by offering her Korean fusion flavor to Pixar Animation employees.

Some enterprising rolling restaurants have developed coping strategies by setting up weekly or monthly street food fairs. One in San Francisco last summer was very successful, based on the list of corporate sponsors including the Beringer wine brand and Whole Foods Market. Another sponsor was Foodbuzz, a San Francisco-based food blog community — of which both ZenKimchi and Beyond Koreanfornian Cooking are “featured publishers.”

Police shut down a similar attempt at a weekly street fair in Los Angeles last year. Yet it has come back to life and is being organized as a yearly event. Imagine your favorite tteokbokki (떡볶이) or boong-o-bbang (붕어빵) stand in Seoul only being open once a year. These annual street fairs are better than nothing.

Now you have an idea of the uphill battle American urban food truck owners — Korean and non-Korean — face all the time just to stay in business.

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