Berkeley’s Bancroft Way won’t have food trucks for much longer.
The permits that authorize Dojo Dog, Healthy Heavenly Foods and Kettle Corn Star, which are currently parked at the intersection of Bancroft and College Avenue, will expire March 31, 2016. The city does not plan to renew any of the permits.
The three trucks originally operated at Bancroft and Telegraph Avenue, and were displaced when construction on Lower Sproul Plaza began in late 2012. The truck owners were given only two days notice to vacate their original location; at the time, the city did not provide alternative locations or solutions.
The Berkeley City Council voted in March 2013 to help relocate the trucks to a different location for the remainder of their permits. In July, the trucks were offered their current location at Bancroft and College. This new location was intended to allow continued operations for the remainder of 2013, plus two additional one year renewals, bringing operations up through the end of March 2016.
According to a city document, “The permit application and conditions of use clearly state that the permit will not be renewed to any vendors. The City, the University, local property owners and the three vendors agreed to the conditions of use, including the permanent expiration date of the permits.”
Berkeley’s Office of Economic Development has stated that it will “continue to offer technical assistance to the mobile food vendors,” including connecting owners with the Telegraph Business Improvement District, the Alameda County Small Business Development Center, the Berkeley Revolving Loan Fund, Matt Cohen of Off the Grid, and area brokers and property owners for “securing ground-floor commercial space.”
According to a memo from Economic Development Manager Michael Caplan, mobile vendors have been operating along this stretch of the Cal campus for decades. Heavenly Foods, for example, has been issued a permit for operation at least as far back as 1992. However, representatives from both the University and the Telegraph Business district have expressed concern that the food trucks, as well as the crowds that they draw, create congestion and detract from brick-and-mortar businesses.
One such business owner, Daryl Ross — who owns Caffe Strada, Freehouse restaurant, Free Speech Café and Café Zeb on or near campus, as well as the Bancroft Hotel — submitted multiple letters to the city expressing concern about the trucks. He wrote: “The entire time the food trucks have been on this corner they have been a nuisance to the neighborhood, violated conditions of their permit and negatively impacted my business as well as the University building (Law School) near them. Almost every day customers of these businesses bring their food to the tables of Caffe Strada and Freehouse Restaurant to eat.”
Berkeley has not been historically hospitable to the food truck scene, which is doing well in other parts of the Bay Area. In a Berkeleyside story from 2010, former contributor Sarah Henry suggested that a combination of bureaucratic red tape and a saturation of vocal brick-and-mortar restaurant owners made it highly challenging to operate a food truck in Berkeley.
Indeed, even highly popular food truck pods organized by San Francisco-based Off the Grid don’t seem to last long. The bustling Gourmet Ghetto food-truck market operated for around 18 months before being shut down due to concerns from nearby permanent food businesses.
A pod on Telegraph and Haste operated for two years. That market, which was on the east side of Haste Street at Telegraph, saw a steady decline in the number of customers, many of whom were UC Berkeley students, after the first few weeks of operations.
There is currently one Off the Grid event at the North Berkeley Bart station on Sunday evenings, but anecdotal evidence suggests it doesn’t draw a huge crowd.
There is no word yet on the future of the Bancroft trucks; we will keep you posted if, and when, they find a new location.
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