Emeryville Restaurant Owner Says Food Trucks Are Killing His Business

Emeryville is forming a task force to recommend changes to its mobile catering ordinance. For the past year, the East Bay city has been a bright spot in the Bay Area's emerging street-food scene. Truck supporters think the changes under discussion could kill Emeryville's thriving street-food scene. But brick-and-mortar restaurants are concerned about what they see as unfair competition. This is Part Two in our series of posts about Emeryville's increasingly contentious pavement cuisine. In Tuesday's Part One, we looked at regulations the task force will consider.

Gail Lillian knew it when she saw it. Last year, the owner of the Liba Falafel truck saw Emeryville's mix of weekday office workers and the relative dearth of restaurants, and figured the city would be prime ground for rolling out a mobile food business. Plus her prep kitchen is in the East Bay. “The formula I was looking for was really satisfied by Emeryville's daytime industry,” Lillian says.

Not to mention that San Francisco is excruciatingly hostile to mobile start-ups, especially for those with the notion to park on public property. These days, Liba parks one day a week on a private parking strip in Potrero Hill, another on city parkland in Civic Center, and every other week at Off the Grid Civic Center. The rest of the time Lillian rolls between two public spots on Emeryville's Hollis Street. She reckons her permitting costs in Emeryville were in “the hundreds of dollars.”

And in the city? “I'm laughing because San Francisco is such a web of confusion to me,” Lillian says, “I don't even know how much I've paid altogether, unless I check all my paperwork.” She says it must be “in the thousands, and the thousands all over again.”

Emeryville, then, has allowed Lillian a chance at start-up success. Only, talk to Doyle Street Café co-owner George Masarweh, and the success of food trucks like Liba has come at the expense of local brick-and-mortars.

“There are too many of them, number one,” says Masarweh of Emeryville's mobile vendors.

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