University News

Tensions arise as food truck community grows

Staff Writer
Monday, December 3, 2012

Students line up outside Mama Kim’s, a member of Thayer Street’s vibrant food truck community. The truck is one of several regulars on the block.

As the food truck scene’s prominence on Thayer Street continues to grow, so does the dialogue among truck owners and Thayer restauranteurs as they seek to find their niche.
Frustration among food truck owners has cropped up as some owners have accused other trucks of parking illegally or in a manner that is discourteous to Thayer restaurants – specifically, parking near or north of Waterman Street, according to tweets reported in BlogDailyHerald. Some managers of restaurants near the intersection of Thayer and Waterman streets voiced concerns that trucks sometimes park illegally, in addition to siphoning off business while paying no rent. But other restaurant owners said trucks have not posed a problem.
According to some food truck owners, reminders about where to park are aimed at strengthening the food truck community.
“We’re a community – bad behavior reflects on all of us,” Plouf Plouf Gastronomie tweeted Nov. 15. Plouf Plouf owner Mario Molliere said the newer food trucks “park illegally everywhere,” even in places where private vehicles cannot park. Molliere added that his concerns stem from complaints received from nearby restaurants as well as situations in which Providence Police Department officers have told trucks to park elsewhere.
Rocket Fine Street Food employees have voiced their concerns on Twitter as well. The food truck tweeted at fellow truck, Radish, Nov. 11: “Respect the restaurants, keep your distance.” Co-owner of Rocket Patricia Natter said tweets between the trucks are the owners “watching out for each other.”
Natter added that Rocket supports other trucks through Twitter as well. “We retweet a lot of the other trucks’ tweets. We always say, when we’re in a location, the other trucks that are with us,” she said.
But some truck owners said they have experienced no difficulties with rival trucks.
“I don’t know of any competition between food trucks. And it would be great to see every entrepreneur succeed,” wrote Hyun Kim ’01, co-owner of the Mama Kim’s food truck, in an email to The Herald.
Food trucks, or “peddlers,” as labeled by the code of ordinances set by city officials, have certain location regulations. Food trucks can only remain in the same place on public property for 60 minutes at a time. They may not park in areas labeled as “no parking,” metered parking spaces or “parking space defined by painted lines,” according to Article IX of the Providence Code of Ordinances. Food trucks also cannot park within 300 feet of entertainment venues – specifically defined as the Providence Performing Arts Center and the Dunkin’ Donuts Center – when an event is being held.
Though keeping distance between food trucks and restaurants is not mentioned in the ordinances, to some, this is an unwritten rule. “To me, it’s common sense. You don’t park your truck right in front of a restaurant,” Natter said.
Regardless of how close the trucks park to Thayer restaurants, “I’m sure some restaurant owners aren’t happy about it,” said owner of food truck ClamJammers Brant Santos, adding that restaurants likely lose business to trucks. “They pay really big rent on Thayer Street,” he added.
Restaurant managers near the area on Thayer where food trucks tend to park offered varied opinions on trucks parking in the area.
Better Burger Company manager Natalie Sussikis said that food truck parking has been an ongoing issue for the business. She said she has observed trucks parking in metered spaces – a violation of city ordinance – and has complained to both the trucks and the board of licenses, which licenses the trucks.
Sussikis said she has also called the police about illegally parked food trucks, but “they don’t do anything about it.”
“There will be a line (at the food trucks who are) paying cents to a meter, and people are paying thousands and thousands in rent,” she said, referring to Thayer businesses. Sussikis said that BBC is most affected because they are the closest restaurant to where the trucks park.
Food truck owners noted the positive aspects of parking their businesses on Thayer Street.
“We have provided advice and shared information to other food truck owners in the interest of supporting small local businesses like us and our belief that Brown students should have access to good food at affordable prices,” Kim wrote in an email to the Herald.
Radish owner Timothy Silva said food trucks in the area help restaurants thrive. “I know that food trucks bring people to Thayer Street, so it actually helps the other businesses,” he said.
Having more food trucks makes Thayer “a lot livelier, and people have more options,” Silva said. He also supports restaurants in the area by eating there, he added.
Santos said the community of food trucks happens naturally. “A lot of times it’s not even planned” that food trucks tend to cluster in one area, he said.
Natter highlighted the positive atmosphere that food trucks bring to Providence, especially in locations like Kennedy Plaza. “The food trucks are helping to revitalize that area,” she said.
The trucks will hopefully continue to work together, Natter said. Several owners of the trucks met in the spring to discuss their businesses, she said, adding that she hopes the owners of the trucks will “formalize things a little more, set our own guidelines and rules of the road.”
Most students interviewed who frequent the food trucks on Thayer Street had no opinion on where they parked or how they affected local business. Sean Curran, MD/PhD said he has not witnessed any problem with the trucks except for parking enforcers asking them to move.
Dong Qing GS commented on the convenience of the food trucks. “After they showed up here, I came here quite often,” he said.


Read more on BlogDailyHerald!


  • Anonymous

    A few nights ago I was buying food from a food truck, and I witnessed an uneasy, slightly humorous event: one of the Thayer Street managers was parked right behind of the food truck that was parked in front of Verizon. The manager proceeded out of his car multiple times to tell the vendors to move, but the vendor said “just let me get the rest of these customers in line” (there were about 10 of us). Impatient and angry, the manager had spikes/some sort of weapon threatening him with those, and to call the police. The vendor asked if the manager was “crazy,” and also laughed because apparently the same manager pretended to be the food inspector to enter another food truck and ask him to leave after the “inspection.” I can see how the food trucks are threatening Thayer businesses, but I think after a certain point, handling things in this manner can only result in more tense relations between peddlers and Thayer restaurants, not to mention the frightened customers and standbys.

  • Anonymous

    Typically poor reporting by the BDH to not seek out input from the Thayer Street District Management Authority on this issue, which is a huge challenge to the local tax paying businesses. The food trucks have low costs of entry into this market (no taxes, low licensing fees, no rent). They poach business by parking in front of other restaurants. The blow diesel exhaust and noise pollution from their generators into the street, while the restaurants must adhere to very strict codes regarding discharge of fumes. Seek out the TSDMA which is studying this problem and will be offering suggestions to the City in 2013.

  • Anonymous

    I can’t stand these trucks’ fumes! When I am studying in nearby a building and open the window, I have to smell the diesel fume, greasy food (clam truck), strong odor (mama kim and clam truck) in addition to the noise pollution. Aren’t there noise and pollution laws about letting an engine or generator idle?

  • staff member

    I am bothered that there are so many trucks showing up now, and they are taking parking spots that people need. There isn’t enough parking around campus as it is for faculty and staff, and these trucks take the coveted non-metered spots. They definitely shouldn’t be allowed to park in the non-metered spots between Waterman and George since those are rare all-day parking spots. I’d rather have them take the metered spots. They definitely stay longer than 60 minutes at a time. I always wonder if they just eat the $25 fine for overtime parking each day. I feel like they are an annoyance but as long as they abide by the rules they should be allowed to stay. I don’t think that Providence Police will spend much time policing these trucks since they have real crime to deal with.

    • Drone Henley

      Oh, G-d forbid you have to park 5 blocks away and walk for 10 minutes to get to work.

  • Anonymous

    Its funny watching Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction in action. A mix of poor planning and zoning, a general seediness of Thayer, and exorbitantly high costs make these trucks an attractive option. The trucks do well because people LIKE the food and they serve the local community (not people driving in cars from Mass). The stores on Thayer make very little sense for the thousands of local residents. A Verizon store, really?

    We see an increasing number of hookah and sit down restuarants that only see business on weekends from townies and bored teens from Massachusetts. And we wonder why Thayer is “shady” and lacks the character you’d expect by Brown University?

  • staff

    What will happen to these trucks when Brown takes over many of these street parking spots? The trucks won’t be able to buy a parking pass? Where will the trucks go then?