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Food truck operators continue fight for downtown

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Strength in numbers -- that's the strategy of food truck operators who converged on Houston's city hall Tuesday in hopes of changing city rules which keep them from serving customers downtown and in the medical center. But not everyone is in favor of the idea.

The official reason you can't find food trucks in downtown Houston is because city regulations do not allow propane-operated food trucks to be parked downtown. But the deeper reason is old-fashioned competition.

We found a food truck in the Museum District, and there was one parked next to a coffee house in Montrose. But if you work downtown, there was no food truck in sight.

"Everybody should be able to go downtown," said Matt Opaleski of H-town StrEATs. "It's a free market society. People are scared of us and we're not sure why."

A number of city regulations have made food trucks a non-starter in the central business district. So on Tuesday, dozens of mobile food truck supporters and operators came to city hall, pushing for a change in regulation.

"I see downtown growing," said chef Jonathan Jones. "I see food trucks being part of that foot traffic, drawing more people down there."

Supporters of food trucks downtown have mobilized a movement, even starting a petition drive. But not everyone in the restaurant business likes the idea.

Franks Pizza owner Debbie Love explained, "We depend on foot traffic. If people are walking four or five blocks to Franks, and they see four or five food trucks along the way, obviously they have more options. We feel like it's going to really hurt our business."

Love and her husband own Franks Pizza downtown and they support the position of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association not to change the regulation.

"They just seeing it theoretically, as just splitting up an already small pie," said Michael Shine with the Greater Houston Restaurant Association. "This is being operated in five business parts, lunch five days a week."

Both sides pressed their cases to council members who n the upcoming weeks will decide whether food trucks and their fans will be able to roam downtown.

"I think they should let food trucks downtown," said customer Damion Smith.

We are still several weeks away from a possible city council vote. You can expect heavy lobbying to continue on both sides. Even if the change is approved, food trucks will only be allowed on private property, so you wouldn't see a line of the trucks parked on a public street downtown.

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