Curbing food trucks - LA city officials debate parking regulations

Carey McDonald and Suzanne Stackle pull up some brick fence at Blue Collar in Echo Park and dive into gourmet french fries from the Frysmith Food Truck.
Carey McDonald and Suzanne Stackle pull up some brick fence at Blue Collar in Echo Park and dive into gourmet french fries from the Frysmith Food Truck.
Patricia Nazario/KPCC

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Gourmet grilled cheese, red velvet pancakes, or handmade ice cream sammies - what’s been your latest curbside pleasure? L.A.'s ever-expanding fleet of gourmet food trucks has sparked calls for more regulation.

It used to take 20 bucks, time and patience to lunch on fresh, healthy or gourmet food in Southern California. Not anymore.

"I got the turkey melt from Greens on Wheels," says John Espe. "So, I can grab it and go without paying valet parking. Without tipping and paying for bread and all that, but you get good food quickly and at a great price.”

"I got two tacos from Bool," says Alex Gonzalez.  "You can come and go you don’t have to sit, or look for a place to sit.”

"I ordered a Chicken Cobb salad – $8," says Regina Murray. "At comparable restaurant across the street, this salad cost me $15.”

Gourmet mobile vendors develop niche offerings – sushi and Italian food to vegetarian chili and smashed curried Indian potatoes. These movable feasts are slicing into the lunch – and sometimes dinner – crowds of some traditional sit-down restaurants.

Take Mixt Greens, for instance, on Museum Row in L.A.’s Miracle Mile District.  During the lunchtime rush, from five to 20 food trucks park outside the brick and mortar establishments along Wilshire Boulevard. Several well-known companies operate offices there – the Screen Actor's Guild, E! Entertainment and Comcast.

Dan Kim, who owns the Bool Korean BBQ truck, says he pulls up as soon as parking is legal at 9 a.m. and stays ‘til 3 p.m.  He says he feeds the meter, but...

“... but we get a ticket for being over an hour," says Kim. "We do get about two tickets, sometimes one, but sometimes two.”

That’s $50 a pop a few times a week. Kim absorbs it as the cost of serving up his spicy Korean/Mexican fusion cuisine in a prime location. 

“It’s easier to pay $50 a day,” says Mixt Greens manager Ami Lourie, than paying $10,000 to $20,000 rent a month, plus taxes and salaries for his small army of workers.

Lourie and neighboring establishments are demanding that the L.A. City Council step up regulations for mobile vendors.  It’ll be tricky for council members to legislate where they might permit or restrict mobile vending.

The owner of Mandoline Grill’s Vietnamese food truck Mong Skillman says the industry is already regulated enough as is.

"We do have all the taxes and health codes and regulations," says Skillman, "and health inspectors come onto the trucks, especially during big events.”

Skillman says that like most mobile vendors, she tries to avoid conflict with brick and mortar restaurants. While the L.A. City Council is scheduled to discuss parking regulations for food trucks again in October, L.A. County public health officials are zeroing in on health and safety standards.

The same department that grades restaurants is designing a similar system for mobile vendors. Expect a roll-out toward the end of next month.