I know this is a longer post than what I usually write – but while it may seem small, the issue of food trucks in Pittsburgh could become a great way to help start more successful businesses in Pittsburgh. If you are in a hurry, you can skip my ramblings about Food Trucks in Austin and scroll down to read about the upcoming PghMobileFood events.
I guess I didn’t really know how behind the times Pittsburgh was interms of food trucks until I was in Austin, TX last fall for work. I stayed in Austin for an extra day to just walk around and see what everyone loves about the place. Another friend from Pittsburgh visits there often and posts amazing food from food trucks on his facebook page. I took off my work shoes, put on my sneakers and set off on a little urban hike in search of food trucks.
I was probably using Yelp or Google maps – searching for the keyword tacos – and I stumbled upon the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery - my first thought was this is an awful nice location for a trailer park, then I realized it was a food truck trailer park. A parking lot with food trucks, picnic tables, a garage space – with doors that opened and more tables and bathrooms.
Location, Location, Location:
Another factor in the success of a business is location – if you open a new business in the wrong location – there is only so much you can do to get people to go out of their way to visit your shop. Think about it – how many of you go over to the north shore for a meal if you aren’t already headed to the north shore for a baseball game, football game or other big event – the rest of the time – those location are pretty empty.
Food Trucks allow the businesses to go to the people, thus a new restaurant isn’t just limited to their location. Which solves another problem – feeding a group of people – it is a challenge. If you plan an event at a location that isn’t set up to feed a large group of people – you are limited in options. Enter the food trucks – in the past 6 weeks – I have attended several events where the food trucks were able to come, set up and provide food – allowing for people to stay and participate in the community event. The StepTrek and the Wigle Whiskey Tar and Feather party are just two of the events that drew a crowd, and food was provided by food trucks.
And this got me thinking about the opportunity of food trucks – opening a restaurant is hard – some people say 90%, this article argues that it is more like 60% of restaurants that fail – and that is a failure not only for the business owner but for the communities that are eager to have businesses.
The Austin Trailer Park & Eatery makes it a little easier for a business to get started – tables, chairs, bathrooms, trash are all shared – plus multiple businesses are marketing the space together. While I was there I had a taco for Torchy’s and some cake balls from Holy Cacao – in one visit I was able to patronize two businesses.
We are starting to see something like this at the Pittsburgh Public Market. The Public Market has already given places like the Crested Duck Charcuterie a start – and now that they have a following they have opened their own location in Beechview. And the East End Book Exchange has been using the public market to get started on opening a used book store in Pittsburgh. Low rent and weekend hours make the Public Market a great incubator for new Pittsburgh businesses. If we want to grow more local business – what else can we do as a city and a community to help business owners get off to a successful start?
Confusing Laws for Pittsburgh food Trucks:
The food truck scene is huge in other cities (see this recent Post-Gazette article about Portlands 500+ food trucks) but is just getting started here in Pittsburgh – part of that is because there is a whole host of issues and conflicting laws about food trucks in the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
You can read more about the current food truck regulations in this August 2012 article from the City Paper.
Some Pittsburghers in partnership with the Saxifrage School (and keep an eye out for the Saxifrage School – this is an incredible new organization in Pittsburgh) are getting together to work on the local food truck problem and come up with some solutions – and you can join them. Last Wednesday they hosted the first of 3 events on Food Trucks – Food Trucks 101: Competition Law and the Constitution. Anyone who is interested is invited to attended the upcoming Pgh Mobile Food Events.
- Wednesday, October 10, 2012, 7pm @ Bar Marco – Food Trucks 201: Drafting New Legislation
- Sunday, October 14, 2012 1-3pm @ 5989 Penn Circle - Food Truck Community Support Rally
If you are a twitter user follow @PghMobileFood.