Downtown truckery

If you were there last Sunday — and if you’re one of the people in Greensboro who actually goes out and interacts with the city you live in, you likely were — then you know that the food truck festival on Spring Garden Street was one of the biggest and best-attended outdoor events in Greensboro this year. Thousands walked the streets, queued up at the trucks for hour-long waits, flooded nearby bars and restaurants with overflow traffic. It was a success in every measurable way.

This was not lost on Greensboro City Council members. At last Tuesday’s work session, Mayor Robbie Perkins offered what he called a “bold suggestion” — simply allowing food trucks to do business in downtown Greensboro without restrictions or caveats, which was what District 5 Councilwoman Trudy Wade and District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny had suggested from the outset.

But at-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan, one of the council’s policy wonks, reminds us that this cannot be done under existing law, which would take 60 days to change. Hence the city’s downtown food-truck “pilot program,” which is in actuality just a placeholder until the ordinances can be changed, Vaughan told YES! Weekly.


However, Vaughan said, “There is reluctance from the’  downtown business owners to embrace the food trucks.”’  She’s speaking specifically of downtown brick-and-mortar’  restaurant owners, who seek to use legislation to avoid competition, in part by complaining that food trucks have an unfair business advantage.

But food trucks exist in the same niche as brick-and-mortar eateries: Both prepare and serve food, both rely on quality and reputation, and, despite what some restaurateurs will have you believe, both pay property taxes since, in Guilford County, anyway, a food truck can only be licensed through an existing restaurant or catering concern — a brick-and-mortar establishment that by law already pays taxes. To require food trucks to pay an equivalent fee to “level the playing field” would amount to double dipping by the city, putting the trucks themselves at a disadvantage.

True, food trucks downtown would change the paradigm, and put some restaurants in jeopardy. But standing restaurants already have an edge over the trucks. They can sell beer, wine and spirits if they choose. They have tables and chairs, rest rooms, air-conditioning and heating.

The food trucks’ edge — right now, anyway — lies in the cuisine. Last week’s food truck festival saw tacos, crepes, unique pasta dishes, boutique sandwiches, dumplings and other items that you just can’t get in our existing downtown eateries, many of which have become nothing but repositories for played-out bar food, particularly at lunchtime.

To put it in Darwinian terms, the food trucks are supplying variation to the existing gene pool, and that is what makes people want to patronize them, not the fact that they have four wheels.

The food trucks are coming to downtown Greensboro. In fact, they are here — the city’s pilot program began on Monday and by the time it ends in November, all legislative hurdles should be cleared.

What existing restaurants can do to retain their business is ditch the chicken wings and try something different. Then maybe they will be the ones turning away crowds, and the food trucks will be the dining choice of last resort.

YES! Weekly chooses to exercise its right to express editorial opinion in our publication. In fact we cherish it, considering opinion to be a vital component of any publication. The viewpoints expressed represent a consensus of the YES! Weekly editorial staff, achieved through much deliberation and consideration .