In recent years, New Orleans has become an urban incubator for creative ideas, drawing artists and entrepreneurs together to help guide the city towards a positive future. This meeting-of-the-minds atmosphere has revealed a simple truth about the city: New Orleans has a lot of archaic laws in dire need of a modern overhaul.
When GOOD Ideas for New Orleans convened and tasked a team of creatives to tackle food truck reform, the group was unprepared for the outdated laws of the city. Not only does the city ban food trucks from its Central Business District and the French Quarter, information for would-be food truck operators is convoluted and hard to find. "It makes no sense that a city with a tagline 'We live to eat' would make it so difficult for food trucks to operate," says Kelley Troia, a member of the GOOD Ideas for Cities creative team.
The team's presentation at the July event. Read more about their solution.
New Orleans is representative of many cities struggling to incorporate food trucks into a traditional restaurant scene. In the past, restaurant owners have argued that food trucks steal customers. The reality the team discovered is that mobile vendors fill a completely different niche than restaurants. "There's a thought process that happens when people go to eat: what kind of food do I want? How much time do I have? Do I want to sit down or take something on the run?" says Troia.
Rachel Billow, president of the New Orleans Food Truck Coalition (NOFTC) and owner of mobile-eatery La Cocinita, agrees. "In other cities, restaurant owners have found that the presence of food trucks actually helps their businesses by bringing foot traffic to the area. The two formats complement one another, rather than compete with each other," notes Billow. This clustering effect is well-documented: Along Magazine Street, tightly-packed restaurants thrive on the competition they present to one another in what has become a go-to dining destination in New Orleans. Billow believes that the same effect is achieved when food trucks and restaurants cluster together.
After plenty of research alongside the NOFTC, the GOOD Ideas for Cities creative team set to crafting a new identity for nolafoodtrucks.com, reinventing the site as a resource for eaters and vendors. The goal is for the site to become a huge benefit for food truck entrepreneurs looking to learn about the in-and-outs of the city's laws.
In the meantime, the NOFTC, represented by Rachel Billow and Andrew LeGrand, met with the City Council to discuss revamping the City's outdated laws on mobile food vendors. The NOFTC was met with little opposition, and presented the City Council with numerous facts to support food trucks and community growth. "In addition to the concrete economic benefits for our city like sales tax revenue, job creation and new small businesses, food trucks also brighten up blighted areas, provide food options in areas underserved by restaurants, and contribute to our world-renowned culinary scene by complementing brick-and-mortar restaurants," says Billow. Just two days after their meeting with the City Council, the NOFTC hosted the Central City Food Truck Festival, which was met with success and the support of members of the City Council. With over 700 people in attendance, the NOFTC proved that community interest in mobile food vendors is thriving.
Though the city is well on its way to welcoming food truck operators into the fold, there are still some glaring legal obstacles. For one, the city's number of mobile food vendor permits is capped at a measly 100. Advocates are hoping to either eliminate this cap entirely and let the market dictate the number of trucks that the city will support, or at the very least increase the limit.
"One possibility is to split up the permits so that food trucks are no longer in the same category as snowball stands and fresh produce vendors," says Billow. "That way, an increase from 100 to 200 permits would actually result in an additional 160 or so permits, given that an estimated 60 permits out of the 100 are being used by these other types of mobile food vendors."
The NOFTC will continue to press forward, growing interest and challenging archaic laws until they are overturned. "The City Council and the Mayor's Office have both expressed support for the growth of food trucks in New Orleans," says Billow. "The tricky part now will simply be working out the details of how to change the current ordinances in a way that will work well for all involved." Vendors realize it's going to take some time, but now they finally foresee a positive future where food trucks will be allowed in New Orleans's most populated areas.
Photos by Sophie Borazanian
GOOD Ideas for Cities pairs creative problem-solvers with real urban challenges proposed by civic leaders. To learn more visit good.is/ideasforcities. Watch more videos of recent GOOD Ideas for Cities events, and if you'd like to talk about bringing the program to your city or school, email alissa[at]goodinc[dot]com or follow us at @IdeasforCities