Long Beach food trucks are unfair competition, some restaurants say

City officials hope the food trucks, such as City officials hope the food trucks, such as Beach Buns & Bites, boost tourism and local businesses. (April 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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A Long Beach plan to allow food trucks near the beach has some local restaurant owners gearing up for a summer of serving their treats curbside -- and others fuming about the new four-wheeled competition.

The city, which relies heavily on its summer tourism season, is allowing eight food trucks to set up at the end of Riverside Boulevard on Tuesdays through Sundays from May 23 to Sept. 2 in a trial program. Officials are discussing the possibility of a second site on Mondays at Kennedy Plaza.

Local leaders hope the trucks will help lure beachgoers to Long Beach despite the absence of the city's iconic boardwalk. The structure, destroyed by superstorm Sandy, will not be fully rebuilt until November.

Sean Sullivan, owner of popular Swingbellys BBQ, has a truck he uses at festivals and for catering. Being able to park it by the beach will allow him to stay in business while his Sandy-damaged restaurant is fixed, he said.

"My feeling is always the more people we bring down here, the better everybody does," Sullivan said.

But Scott Buda, owner of the Red Mango frozen yogurt shop, said existing businesses without trucks could suffer from new, nimble competition. Business owners pouring money into rebuilding also lack money to buy a truck, he said.

Food trucks typically cost more than $20,000 to buy, operators said.

"It's the equivalent of taking business away from the established businesses," Buda said. "Then you say, is it really worth staying in business?"

Six of the eight food truck spots will have season-long occupants while the other two will rotate vendors, City Manager Jack Schnirman said. The food truck market -- the city calls it "The Shoregasboard" -- will be limited to existing local businesses unless there are extra spaces available, he said.

Food truck owners collectively will pay the city $4,000 for the right to operate the trucks, Schnirman said. They also will pay for sanitation, insurance and electricity, he said. Any out-of-city truck owners would have to purchase a local mercantile license, which costs about $350, Schnirman said.

The food truck concept emerged from conversations between city leaders and local restaurateurs, including Sugo Cafe owner Alan Adams, who has served as an organizer for food truck operators.

Adams' truck is hard to miss. Beach Buns & Bites is painted with a mural featuring a smiling surfing hot dog. The menu, which includes duck fat fries and a pulled pork lettuce wrap called "no buns intended," is equally showy.

"I'm going to be creating a little oasis," Adams said.

Long Beach Chamber of Commerce executive vice president Mark Tannenbaum said the trucks will help the city's business climate. Forty percent of Long Beach's 600 or so businesses remain closed because of Sandy, and the trucks will send the message that the city is coming back, he said.

But Eric Berkowitz, owner of Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt, is concerned about making expensive investments post-Sandy.

"It's a challenge for a lot of businesses that are coming back to buy a vehicle for only one season," Berkowitz said.

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