A wise man that I know recently made this comment, which I paraphrase here: You have to appreciate the irony when Akron, which claims to be the city of innovation, issues permits for panhandlers to beg on public street corners, but still won’t let food trucks, which pay taxes and are health department inspected, sell their cuisine on the streets.
Yes, I appreciate the irony.
But where food trucks are concerned, there is hope. I hope.
Recently, I sat in on a meeting of the City Council committee that is working to come up with legislation that would lift Akron’s ban on food trucks, allowing them to park on city streets and sell their gourmet fare.
For those of you who haven’t been following this saga, let me take a paragraph or two to refresh your memory. I first began writing about food trucks three years ago. That’s when the first of this new breed of truck — gourmet kitchens on wheels — started cropping up in Northeast Ohio. At the time, the city was adamant that food trucks would never be allowed to operate in Akron, particularly downtown.
The city’s position didn’t change much until earlier this summer, when truck owners started attending City Council meetings demanding their rights. They formed the Greater Akron Food Truck Coalition and got some legal backup, and City Council, in particular Councilman-at-large Jeff Fusco, agreed to give them consideration.
Fusco formed a committee, which includes Jeff Winer, a chef and food truck operator, and Suzie Graham, president of the Downtown Akron Partnership, the organization that has advocated against trucks having free rein downtown out of concern for the competition they might pose to existing restaurants that have invested in permanent locations.
From what I saw, there seemed to be genuine interest in coming up with legislation that would make the trucks legal in Akron. That’s the good news.
For the better part of an hour, there was detailed discussion on the types of fire suppression systems that the trucks were outfitted with. I’m all for fire safety, particularly in gasoline-powered vehicles with stoves, so I know the discussion was needed. But unfortunately, I was reminded how slowly the wheels of government move. That’s the bad news.
Early in my career, I covered a local school board that once spent the better part of a year debating the type of flooring that would be installed inside a new high school gymnasium. The fact that I can still recall, some 25 years later, that the final decision was for a poured terrazzo floor, should give you an indication about just how long and painful the discussions were.
I really hope that food trucks don’t go the way of that flooring.
The committee has met three times since it was formed in July, and Fusco said he hopes the group can step up its pace.
“There is a place for food trucks in Akron, I think without question,” he said.
That’s good to hear, because food trucks are showing no signs of slowing down or fading out as just the trend du jour.
In fact, in keeping with Akron’s innovative spirit, the trucks seem to have found a way to thrive in spite of city government.
Last month, more than 10,000 folks came out to Fairlawn when the city staged a food truck round-up. The lines were long and many trucks ran out of food, which should be an indication to everyone in Akron just how popular they are.
The Rubber City Radio Group on West Market Street has organized two Food Truck Fridays, inviting a group of trucks to its parking lot and inviting the public for lunch, both of which had great attendance.
This school year, the University of Akron has invited trucks to campus, giving them designated spots to park and sell to the student population.
At Kent State University, food service administrators recently returned from a trip where they were learning about food trucks because the university is considering starting its own truck as a dining option on campus.
Now that’s what I call innovation.