This past summer we held a food truck summit at Kutzky Market, an event to support changing Rochester’s overly restrictive food truck regulations. It was immediately obvious there was tremendous support for food trucks with over 600 people attending, many who biked, walked or took a shuttle from downtown, to dine at the participating small businesses.
Given the success of our event, I have been continually surprised by the lack of support from the City Council. A survey developed by the City and Chamber of Commerce also revealed overwhelming support for food trucks. But rather than use these winter months to develop the appropriate ordinance, the City Council is still waiting on input from groups like the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Rochester Downtown Alliance, even when the Downtown Alliance has said that they are unwilling to lead on this issue because it is controversial. In short, little to no progress has been made in the last seven months, despite overwhelming public support.
One of the many bigger issues involved is the immediate need to find innovative ways to keep small businesses in the core. Small businesses are disappearing from downtown. High property tax rates, speculative land values, and higher rents have made it difficult for these businesses to thrive. If we cannot control the real estate market, we need to spur small business in other ways, especially in the downtown, and food trucks are a great first step.
Ironically, food trucks are not actually a new idea. The concept exists all over the world, and in Minneapolis and other cities, many successful food trucks have eventually turned into brick and mortar restaurants. Small businesses turning into larger investments in the city, especially new restaurants, is exactly what Rochester needs.
One of the concerns around this concept is what competition would do to existing restaurants. At Forager, we would encourage food trucks on our street, even right in front of our restaurant. These small businesses bring vitality to an area, and that vitality is much more important than any perception we are competing for customers. We don’t want to stand in the way of the next great restaurant, the next great chef, or the next great coffee shop. Our community should be about supporting each other rather than trying to protect our individual interests.
As the City drags its feet trying to determine the right regulations around food trucks, we are missing out on a market that can provide real value to Rochester. This over-regulation is a real problem in our community; we need less regulation, not more. We need to figure out the most basic regulations needed for this endeavor and put only those in place. We can always go back and regulate more if there is a problem, but we must allow and encourage small business innovators the space to create a viable marketplace for their business.
Food trucks are a critical test about who we want to be as a community. The marketplace should guide the city. The city should not guide the marketplace.