Food truck owners to restaurateurs: Blame yourself, not our trucks, for business problems
Local food truck vendors are striking back at the suggestion that their trucks are eating local restaurants' profits.
"I think in a downward economy we blame everybody but ourselves as restaurants," says Saffron chef Sameh Wadi, who also runs the World Street Kitchen food truck. "The people that are going to eat at my food truck on a daily basis are not going to eat at my restaurant every day."
Barrio Restaurant Group executive chef and vice president Bill Fairbanks echoes Wadi.
"When times get tough, I do know it's easy to blame somebody else for the way things are going," he says. But Barrio, he points out, owns restaurants in several neighborhoods with a large number of food trucks and they haven't seen any damage to their bottom line.
"We have a bunch of food trucks that park by our restaurant in Lowertown and Nicollet Mall every day, and we've personally not seen food trucks affect business," he tells City Pages.
The point of food trucks, Fairbanks explains, is to offer a different experience to consumers than traditional restaurants.
"I think a lot of the guests that you see at the food truck on a daily basis aren't necessarily people who are looking for a full dining experience or have the time to have lunch in a brick-and-mortar restaurant," he says. Fairbanks points out Barrio has food trucks of its own, which serve burritos even though their restaurant does not.
"Burritos are quintessential street food," he explains.
Sameh Wadi thinks food trucks are a boon for everyone.
Wadi scoffs at the notion that food trucks compete with restaurants.
"You're offering so much more as a restaurant than the so-called competitor that's a food truck," Wadi says. No one sees a food truck and decides to drop a reservation, he adds.
Both Wadi and Fairbanks think trucks compete with one another for customers who want something cheap off the street or who would otherwise bring a bag lunch. Wadi thinks that the presence of food trucks is ultimately positive for everyone.
"If I'm saying, 'I want to go eat outside today. The food truck usually parks here,' and they're not here today, I'm going to eat at the other place."
The controversy was sparked by the Pioneer Press, which ran an article Monday morning quoting several restaurateurs criticizing food trucks for taking away their business.
For his part, Fairbanks thinks there's enough room for everybody in town.
"If you put out a product people respect," he says, "you're going to get business."
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Minneapolis & St. Paul dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.