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Friends, Food and Fun in the Kitchen

Food trucks, another point of view

By Lisa Abraham Published: October 3, 2011

As we continue to talk about whether moible food trucks will have a place in Akron, chef John Schultz, who operates the Zydeco Bistro food truck out of Wadsworth sent me this letter with his thoughts on the city's position against food trucks.

It's good food for thought for all of us. Have a read:

I really appreciated your Op-Ed article in the ABJ from last week. Here is my response to Akron concerning the opinions and the one sided statements that somehow mobile restaurants are unfair competition to brick and mortar establishments.

Like everyone else, I'm in favor of small business development and free market competition, and that's all any of the owners and operators of mobile restaurants here in Northeast Ohio have asked for.

I have heard some say that mobile restaurants do not contribute to the local economy. Our business holds annual memberships with "Ohio Proud," and the Summit County Farm Bureau. This is more than just a restaurant offering a commodity food and beverage to me. Zydeco Bistro buys as much as possible from local farmers, small independent specially food markets, and local farmers' markets. I visit locally owned and operated repair shops for maintenance. I worked with a local restaurant builder to build and now upgrade Zydeco Bistro's kitchen. I put money into the local community when I pay for permits to park, fees to local festivals, permits to operate, anual food license, insurance, local banking, state vender tax, workers compensation, and local taxes. I make donations to local charities and participate in fundraiser events that benefit the local community.

It is important to me that Zydeco Bistro gives back locally, and that we use sustainable sourcing and environmentally conscientious practices. Even when it costs a bit more, Zydeco Bistro makes use of latest environmental practices and eco friendly materials.

Like all small businesses, mobile restaurants spend our money in the towns we work and live in. We live and pay taxes in our local communities. And, yes, we employ people. Zydeco Bistro employs and trains people (mostly students), albeit seasonally. One of our workers this year was a culinary arts student and chef's apprentice, and some aspire to own and operate their own mobile restaurant some day. I pay fair wages, and seasonal work seems to work well for a certain segment of the workforce.

As Chef/Owner of Zydeco Bistro, I believe it is my responsibility to pay forward what others have given to me: the benefit of my 20+ years of culinary experience. Zydeco Bistro's employees get a lot more from me than just a paycheck.

Another point I might add, from having worked in the  brick and mortar restaurants for the past 21 years in various parts of this country. I understand the challenges restauranteurs face with the ups and downs and unexpected costs associated with serving food to the public. I can not think of any good reason to block or discriminate against another type of restaurant because of these challenges. On the contrary, I would welcome any and all types of competition and utilize their successful practicers of both mobile and stationary restaruants to expand on a traditional brick  and mortar restaurant.

I think the most common concern that I've heard from the brick and mortar restauranteurs who are against mobile competition is that a mobile restaurants can just "pick up and move," whereas a brick and mortar restaurant must stay open during set hours year round. This is somewhat true--although if I have made a commitment to serve in a certain location and certain times, then it is just as important to me to be consistent and stay open during the hours I've committed. After all, it's impossible to develop a following if no one knows where you'll be or for how long. However, it is true, my restaurant is on wheels, so I do drive back to my home base and the commissary kitchen we work with (that pays the local taxes) once the service is done. However, if it rains or snows, I can't work. Most of the year, I can operate as a mobile restaurant, although I can do some catering--but as we all know, this is sporadic work. So the advantage of the brick and mortar restaurant is that *you are not weather dependent.*

People will actually go into restaurants to get out of inclement weather. This is simply a statement of fact: not a complaint. The nature of our businesses is somewhat different, so comparing your relative advantages to mine is really an apples to oranges comparison. I believe the market needs both kinds of restaurants. Sometimes customers want to sit down and have the full dining experience, and sometimes people would rather pay for food rather than atmosphere. The point is, there's not only room for both types of business, there's ample demand for both. The market is increasingly demanding both.

Small businesses are the foundation of any community, and competition in a free market, while somewhat risky for those competing, it is ultimately good for both customers and businesses alike. Competition provides incentive for small businesses to be lean, be efficient, and focus on customer satisfaction. It also forces us to be creative and to change. Rules that restrict competition can have the unintended consequence of encouraging complacency, mediocracy and stagnation. Cities such as Cleveland, New York, Portland, Houston and New Orleans, to name a few, have found that the mobile food industry is providing fresh, new alternatives for the community, and that mobile restaurants and conventional restaurants can co-exist and both thrive.



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