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Common Council hears opinions on food trucks

By Michael Mroziak

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-988151.mp3

Buffalo, NY – For food truck owners, their businesses are symbolic of the entrepreneurial spirit, and of their belief in Buffalo and its potential. They've become increasingly popular in the past year, fueled in great part by online social networking. But concerns have also been raised by some about whether these trucks are playing on a level field with the so-called mortar and brick eateries.

Lawmakers will soon consider an amendment that will set rules for how and where food trucks can operate. On Wednesday, a council committee hosted a public hearing on food trucks.

Among the speakers were food truck owners who recently formed the Western New York Food Truck Association. Peter Cimino, owner of Lloyd Taco Truck, said he and his fellow food truck owners are making sure they do business fairly.

"Since the get-go we have diligently followed the laws and were playing by the rules that were set up to this point," Cimino said. "We have abided by self-imposed regulations, we've been self-governing according to the proposed 100-foot rule, and this is proven to be effective thus far."

Attorney Michael Kooshoian read a statement on behalf of restaurant owners, saying they welcome the competition but want to have a say in legislation.

"The proposed legislation's shortcomings are unfortunate because mobile food vending can offer numerous benefits to the City of Buffalo, but as it is writted, it provides more questions than answers," Kooshoian read. "This is why we propose to create a committee to not simply mimic another city's legislation but to learn from other cities' failures in this area and to create legislation unique to Buffalo's economy and interests, to make the City of Buffalo a progressive and national leader in the implementation of the urban mobile food scene."

Among the proposed regulations, preventing food trucks from doing business within 100 feet of a "brick and mortar" restaurant. While most speakers agreed the mobile and fixed restaurants can work in harmony with the right rules, one pizza shop owner still feels the food trucks will get to work at an unfair advantage.

"My problem is this. You say 100 feet, but 100 feet isn't even the length of this building," said John Fusco, owner of Zetti's Pizza on Elmwood Avenue. "If you put a truck there and my door's over there, you want to tell me they're not trying to take my customers?"

Fusco also noted that restaurants are required by law to provide restroom facilities, at their expense, while food trucks do not.

Councilmember Joe Golombek, who chairs the committee that hosted this hearing, encouraged representation in future discussions by both sides in small groups. He also took exception to a comment that this discussion to set rules for food trucks is a reflection of Buffalo as a "rinky dink" city, pointing out that the city of Chicago forbids such businesses entirely.