The Coast News Group
Residents enjoy a food truck gathering at The Black Sheep’s parking lot. Restaurants have stated they're concerned about the food trucks. Photo courtesy of Tom Henderson

Restaurants want to tap brakes on food trucks in Encinitas

ENCINITAS — A food fight may be brewing in downtown Encinitas.  

More than 20 brick-and-mortar restaurants recently signed a letter addressed to the Downtown Encinitas Merchants Association (DEMA) expressing their concerns about a weekly gathering of mobile food trucks. Some of the restaurants say the food trucks are unfair because they siphon customers and eat away at their profits.

The Black Sheep, a yarn shop located off of Coast Highway 101, began hosting food trucks earlier this month in its parking lot. Many residents have flocked to the event, known as “Food Truck Fridays,” every Friday from 6 to 9 p.m.

Phillip Drew, the co-owner of Encinitas Pizza Company, inked his restaurant’s name to the letter that went to DEMA. Drew said he’s conflicted by the food trucks at The Black Sheep.

“I’m pro business and respect The Black Sheep for doing what they have to in order to survive,” Drew said. “At the same time, we’re a new business that’s careful with every penny. So we’re watching the situation.”

Even though he’s torn, he called talk of any ordinances or bans on food trucks “premature.”

“My first inclination isn’t that ordinances solve things,” Drew said. “It’s best to talk through issues. You have to ask if the food trucks have an unfair advantage. The jury is still out for me, but it’s fair to look at their impact.”

Karen Henderson, who has owned The Black Sheep for more than 30 years, said she didn’t intend to create any kind of controversy. The food trucks are allowed to operate on her parking lot once a week in exchange for The Black Sheep getting a percentage of sales, she said.

Henderson noted she’d heard whisperings that nearby restaurants were unhappy with the food trucks, but none had contacted her directly. On the other hand, she believes the event, which started with four food trucks and now includes six, has been well received by foodies thus far. Henderson hopes more people will weigh in on the food trucks at The Black Sheep.

A sign advertising “Food Truck Fridays” at The Black Sheep. Photo by Jared Whitlock

“We’re looking for feedback,” Henderson said. We want to sit down with restaurant owners and talk to the community. If this is something that people believe is positive, then we’re happy to continue. If people largely have negative opinions, we want to hear and we’ll reconsider what we’re doing.”

She may not be able to count on support from downtown restaurants. Part of the restaurants’ letter to DEMA states: “The food trucks are taking away business from our local downtown restaurants that pay rent, taxes and donate regularly to DEMA events.”

Dody Crawford, executive director of DEMA, said she hasn’t seen the letter yet. To her knowledge, she said this is the first time a large number of restaurants in Encinitas have raised concerns over food trucks.

Crawford said she isn’t aware of any other local food truck gatherings.

The organization has “mulled over the issue,” but DEMA hasn’t taken a stance on the food trucks at The Black Sheep yet, according to Crawford. DEMA doesn’t have the authority to regulate the food trucks. But it’s likely the restaurants are seeking the organization’s backing should they talk with other groups or go before City Council to request any action on the food trucks, she said.

One option at the city’s disposal: an ordinance on food trucks.

Cities in California and throughout the U.S. are considering or have passed food ordinances that restrict food trucks from operating near restaurants. Not all of the ordinances, however, have been successful. For instance, El Paso, Texas last year overturned a 2009 ordinance forbidding food trucks from operating within 1,000 feet of an established restaurant after being sued by food truck owners.

Some California cities have slapped buffer ordinances affecting food trucks that park in private or public areas, only to be overruled by sections of the California Vehicle Code that say food trucks can only be regulated in the interest of public safety, not public well being.

Christian Murcia, the owner of Crepes Bonaparte, one of the food trucks that is a part of the weekly event at The Black Sheep, called ordinances that curtail food trucks’ rights “a misguided waste of taxpayer money.”

Crepes Bonaparte sets up shop throughout San Diego County, often relying on social media to alert customers to its whereabouts, Murcia said. He noted business has been solid in Encinitas. But pushed back against claims his food truck is taking a chunk from local restaurants’ bottom lines.

“I don’t think we directly compete,” he said. “We’re a different kind of offering,” adding that he believes a group of food trucks can generate a crowd, benefiting surrounding businesses.

While Murcia acknowledges food trucks may not have as much red tape as restaurants to cut through when opening up, he said there’s also a misconception that food trucks don’t pay any rent.

“We pay fees to the property we’re operating on; we rarely operate on public streets,” he said. “And we have our own challenges — we can’t store food and it’s harder to build up clientele.”

According to Assistant City Manager Richard Phillips, Encinitas hasn’t passed any specific ordinances that govern where and when food trucks can serve customers.

Phillips said the food trucks in Encinitas are subject to the same code and parking requirements as other vehicles. The food trucks also have to meet health standards laid out by the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health, and under new rules, food trucks countywide will soon be required to display the same health inspection letter grades as restaurants.

Additionally, food trucks have to file an Encinitas business license. Thirteen food trucks have an active license, according to Phillips.

Scott Lucksanalamai, operations and events manager for Thai 1 On Eats, another food truck that parks at The Black Sheep once a week, said operating in Encinitas has been relatively easy. The event is a positive in his book.

“I believe it brings good to the city of Encinitas,” Lucksanalamai said. “This food truck gathering is now one of the best in San Diego.”



Sallybird September 2, 2012 at 3:27 pm

I don’t get it. Everyone grips about too much regulation and government intervention. This is free enterprise and capitalism at it’s finest. What’s going on here?

Tiffany Fox August 23, 2012 at 6:16 pm

My family has patronized Food Truck Friday twice since the Black Sheep started hosting it, and we think it’s a great addition to the community. We feel that the food trucks complement, rather than compete with, local businesses. The last time we dined on food-truck fare, we capped off our night by walking over to Bubby’s Gelato in the Lumberyard for a few cones, and also did some window shopping (which later resulted in a purchase) at Magical Child. There’s something about dining outdoors at card tables in a parking lot that makes you want to explore the surrounding neighborhood– and that benefits local businesses. Would we want to eat at a food truck every time we go out for dinner? Of course not. Sometimes you want proper table service and a meal that doesn’t come in a cardboard boat, and we remain frequent patrons of all the wonderful brick-and-mortar restaurants along the 101 and beyond. The food trucks are merely another great food choice in a town full of great food choices. Let’s get out there and enjoy all of them!

Reynold August 23, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Come to North Park, South Park, Normal Heights, etc. to see how it works, North County, because it does. If you were smart, you’d be trying to focus on collaboration rather than elimination. Consider Miho’s latest pop-up shop at El Take it Easy in North Park. You know why these restaurants aren’t scared of the competition? Because they are riding the crest of innovation and continually making themselves relevant. If you’re secure with your product, you wouldn’t have to worry. Sometimes someone wants a $5 burger from Canada Steak Burger instead of a $10 burger from a truck – business waxes and wanes. Don’t these people ever look at the prices? Its not like this stuff is cheap! If you see an effect on your business, its probably because you’re not doing something right.

Sam August 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm

“The food trucks are taking away business from our local downtown restaurants that … donate regularly to DEMA events.”

So as to DEMA’s complaint is that non-members are trying to sell product in their territory… isn’t that how the mob operated?

KO August 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Can you ask the b&m restaurants to read this article–which explains how they are wrong?

mark scoular August 23, 2012 at 9:45 am

Easy solution. A)Make the landowner responsible for collecting sales tax since they are collecting rent as a percentage of sales. B)The landowner should be responsible for policing the neighborhood for trash C) Restrooms must be supplied by the landowner and D)Require the foodtrucks to comply with health and sanitation standards as set by the City of San Diego since the County has no standards. Then, watch what happens when the property owner have to start bearing the same costs as other business owners. Encinitas deserves better.

alan August 23, 2012 at 4:41 pm

mark, a couple of questions.
1. Since when was sales tax a component of rent?
2. Most if not all trucks provide trash facilities to avoid impact on local area.
3. Why should restrooms be provided? Health & Safety? I’ve been to enough establishments in Encinitas that don’t have restrooms to make me wonder why this would have to be a requirement
4. If the trucks operate within the Sn Diego city limits, the city can certify them under the same standards as restaurants. If they don’t SD City doesn’t have jurisdiction.
5. The county requires permit for ALL food vendors .. . . . doesn’t that mean they have standards?
6. What exactly do you have against people who want to open a restaurant but need to build a customer base by running a truck to help them get there? A lot of truck owners open restaurants….

mark scoular August 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

Thanks for the questions.

1. The owner of Black Sheep wants to be a responsible participant in Encinitas. Unless she insuring the collection of sales tax in our community, the roving trucks do not pay their share of our infrastructure. As a % rent collector she is participating in the revenue and has a obligation.

2. And where is the trash disposed of. From what I have seen they look for the closest dumpster paid for by the person with the dumpster behind their place of business.

3. Restaurants are required to have ADA compliant restroom facilities. The Black Sheep owner should provide their facility for use by food truck patrons so the patrons are not “taxing” the facilities of those that actually provide facilities.

4. If you read my post, I said they should be required to comply with the same standards of health and safety as the city. Most of these operators operate on a freestyle basis and all it takes is one operator to kill some patrons and then everyone will blame the city and all others.

5. The county to my knowledge has not addressed food trucks that prepare food on-site vs. constructions site coaches that serve commissary prepared food. BIG difference in terms of processes and cleanliness required to prevent poisoning.

6. Actually there are very few examples of what you suggest. The average NET income for a food truck operator is around $30K according to the National Restaurant Association. Most pop-up operators like this lease their trucks, have no equity in the brand and go from project to project. When someone with a quality chef background (vs a grill cook)that actually shows up for work averages $60K+ and they have a better chance of raising capital based on a restaurant following, there is not a logical reason to follow this business development path.

As a postscript, I am involved in restaurants in several major cities around the country and the turnover of these operators is high, the problems created with parking, no taxes paid etc. far outweigh the “cool-factor” associated with the trucks.

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