There has been a lot of excitement generated by the publicity from the emerging "gourmet roach coach" thing in San Francisco and the Bay area. But as a mobile food vendor, entrepreneur, investor and partner in this business here's my take:
My immediate reaction to the explosion in popularity of what is essentially an underground food economy is: its great but unsustainable. The reasons for this are simple: the money associated with the legal operation of a food cart in San Francisco is (very purposely, I believe by the city) an impractical one for a continuing or start-up venture. And, while it makes sense that Twitter has empowered mobile vendors to connect with their audience, at the end of the day you can't individually contact every patron you might seek and you have to be publicly open in order to sell something. It costs 100,000 easily to purchase a mobile food truck. Add in an additional 20,000 for permitting and (a little bit) of marketing and you have yourself quite an investment; too much of an investment for the vast majority of would be vendors to risk on an unstable location, and routes that are at the will of the police (not to mention the climate). Carts cost less, but you can't legally cook raw food on them (at least in San Francisco), nor legally sell it (as vendors are beginning to find out).
There a lot of ways to encourage street food in this city, and hopefully the unlicensed vendors will persevere successfully. Ironically, it has been the power of social media to connect to a large audience that has brought attention to an economy that has existed in the city (especially the Mission) virtually unbothered by the police for a very long time. It would be a shame to loose the momentum that has built up over the summer for quality, diverse street food; so here is my suggestion: Look to the bars.
The only way that the city will reach mass adoption of this medium is going to be in partnership with brick and mortar businesses that are willing to sponsor these vendors with vocal support (along with their tax base) ala, the Tamale Lady. Bars, off hours for restaurants, and mixed use store fronts are a natural fit for these vendors to work in partnership with, and cross promote each other. It would give customers consistency. It would allow the vendors to build a tax base. These locations have the bathrooms and sinks that mobile vendors need; Some of them even have full kitchens and food quotas for service asscociated with their liquor licenses.
There's a movement here worth saving, but the way to preserve its vibrancy isn't to take it more underground.
6 hours ago