Growing Support for Street Food in Boston

"Now it's Boston's turn to bring food trucks to our city."

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Lines at Boston's Food Truck Festival. [Unless noted, Photographs: Penny Cherubino]

Boston city councilor Michael Ross has been an early supporter of street food, calling for a simpler permitting process. "We need to roll out the welcome mat for businesses, let people know Boston is a business-friendly city, embrace innovation. Food trucks are welcome," Ross told Devra First in the Boston Globe. I chatted with him about the growing support for food trucks in Boston.

How hard will it be to get the new food truck program passed? Is there a time frame yet for the hearing and the process? Boston has waited too long to address how we license and permit food trucks, and other cities have already embraced these small businesses. Now it's Boston's turn to bring food trucks to our city.

We've scheduled the hearing for Tuesday, August 31 at 2:30 p.m. It will be held on the fifth floor of City Hall. The goal of this hearing is to hear testimony from all the stakeholders and lay out a specific process for bringing food trucks to Boston as soon as possible.

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The Clover Food Lab began with a truck near the MIT campus in Cambridge. They recently added a second truck near South Station in Boston and will soon open a brick-and-mortar site in Harvard Square. Read more about the truck here! [Photograph: Citizen Taco]

How and when will the laws change? What are they like now? In conversations I had with restaurateurs and entrepreneurs who've tried to get food trucks in our city, they explained that the process was unclear and took them far too long to figure out. Clover, which has driven so much attention on this issue, took over a year to get permitted. My goal is to make it easy for these small businesses to get off the ground.

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From left: Boston mayor Thomas Menino and city council president Michael Ross compare menu items at Boston's Food Truck Festival. [Photograph: Christine Liu]

How is Boston different from other cities when it comes to street food? Cities like Austin, Seattle, and New York have already embraced these trucks. Boston doesn't have a clear process by which someone can get permitted for a mobile restaurant. Food trucks give aspiring chefs a way to get into the business without the costly overhead of a brick-and-mortar restaurant space. They allow an established restaurant to expand their brand. And these trucks bring affordable, fresh food to all of our residents. We are making progress. I was thrilled to hear that every South End Open Market from now until the end of the season will have a food truck presence after their very successful festival earlier this month.

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Since the Food Truck Festival, chef Greg Gale of Boston's Speed Dog, says he has been seeing younger customers in line at his Newmarket Square location.

How many new vendors do you expect? How many can the city support? I think it's still too soon to determine how many new vendors we'll see. But judging by the Food Truck Festival, there's a huge interest in the quality, affordable food served out of trucks. I think Boston could support between 50 and 100 trucks throughout the city. Of course, where these trucks stop and sell their food is also important and of great interest to existing businesses. We want to be thoughtful to not put brick-and-mortar businesses in jeopardy. There's a way we can do both successfully.

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Although officially retired, Ezra "Speed" Anderson still makes an occasional "guest appearance" at the Boston Speed Dog Truck to visit with old friends and accept grateful thanks from new fans of the tradition he began.

What vendors do you think have shaped the street food movement in the city? What current vendors seem to be pointing the way to the future? There have been some pioneers in Boston—Speed's Hot Dogs come to mind. Clover has embraced a newer model of bringing food that's typically served in a storefront out on the road. I think there's a place for everyone in our city: Korean barbecue, Mexican food, Speed's, and Clover as well.

Do you eat much street food? What's your current food passion? I'm a fan of Korean barbecue. At the Food Truck Festival, I bought Italian groceries from one of the trucks. After this hearing, I'd love to see Ken Oringer's grilled corn from La Verdad on the streets.

About the author: Publisher of BostonZest.com, Penny Cherubino is a perpetual student of food, wine, cheese and the good things in life. She loves cooking, dining out and being part of the Boston food community.

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