Food Truck Operators Are Hoping for Change in City Regulations

Earlier this month, Rachel Billow, who runs the La Cocinita food truck, and Taceaux Loceaux owner Alex Del Castillo had a chance encounter at the city’s safety and permitting department, where they had gone to apply for one of the 100 mobile food vending permits that are distributed annually in Orleans Parish. Up first was Del Castillo. Bad news, he was told: No more permits are available.

But Billow had better luck a few minutes later: She was able to get one.

“She walked out of the office that day with one of the mobile vending permits,” Del Castillo recalled later, a slight that he believes was caused by permitting officials not being on the same page about the city’s regulations. “I was in there the same day asking for the same thing and I didn’t get one.”

As gourmet food trucks have sprung up in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina, gaining popularity through word of mouth and social media channels as a way to grab a quick, late-night bite, many operators say they’ve faced hurdles navigating the city’s protocol for getting up to code and getting in on the action.

The licensing process for food trucks covers a range of other mobile vendors, with wares from produce to snowballs. But food truck operators say that as the local industry has changed, the regulations have become outdated and fail to take into account the high demand for mobile food units. Adding to the frustrations, they also say there are sometimes gaps in how the city deals with the regulations, and some food truck operators avoid the red tape altogether, defying the rules and hoping for the best.

“Like most things in our city, you get a lot of mixed messages, but they’ve got their rules in place and you’ve just got to try to sift through them,” said Henry Pulitzer, 29, who often parks his Geaux Plates food truck outside Dos Jefes Uptown Cigar Bar on Tchoupitoulas Street.

Pulitzer is among a group of local food truck owners who hope to persuade city officials in the coming months to ease some of the rules for mobile food operators by increasing the number of permits issued, extending the time a truck can stay in one spot, and expanding hours of operation.

In addition, some food truck operators are pushing to open the Central Business District for business, and they want to shorten the 600-foot limit in place for the space a food truck must be from a restaurant. The operators would like to see that distance cut in half, and to limit the restriction to restaurants serving food that is similar to what’s being sold on the truck, a distinction set in other cities like San Francisco.

And a 30-minute time limit on how long a mobile vendor can stay in the same spot makes it difficult to set up, get ready, and wait for customers to track them down and order food, say operators, who often choose to ignore the rule, which can carry up to a $500 fine.

“The idea of us only being there for 30 minutes is just silly,” said Billow, 30, whose La Cocinita truck serves Latin American food.

Though anyone passing by some late-night bars like Kingpin on Lyons Street or Rendezvous Tavern on Magazine Street would hardly know it, a city ordinance also bans food truck sales from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Ryan Berni, a spokesman for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said concerns will wane under the “one-stop shop” proposed for city permits, offering a single office that would supply all permits. Landrieu announced the plan in October.

“We’re in the process of streamlining them,” Berni said, noting that many of the complaints that have been expressed to the city concern a lack of available permits, “which is not the case now.”

On Jan. 18, Berni said, there were 22 permits available, a figure that he acknowledged was unusually high. The permits are renewed every year at a cost of about $300 from start to finish.

Complying with the regulations isn’t the only challenge to operating a food truck. It’s also a big financial commitment.

Billow and her partner, Benoit Angulo, who attended culinary school in Venezuela, bought the truck in Florida last September and spent about $10,000 bringing it up to code and another $5,000 painting the outside.

To get a mobile vending permit in Orleans Parish, applicants must pass a fire and health inspection for the truck, which, as Billow found out, often requires that additional money be invested to bring the vehicle into compliance.

But food truck operators say they’re determined to keep going.

For his part, Del Castillo, 44, said he believes many of the ordinances are ambiguous and don’t make a distinction for food trucks, though he has recruited some help and recently obtained the permit he first set out to get.

In the meantime, he has his sights set on gaining some new ground.

“I think we should get access to the CBD,” he said, “because we’re not really competing with the mom and pop restaurants out there, we’re competing with a Lean Cuisine or a bagged lunch.”

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New Orleans Group Bringing Food, Music to Tornado Victims, Volunteers in Joplin, Missouri

Against the backdrop of a national convention on volunteerism, a New Orleans convoy packed with the ingredients for a South Louisiana food and music festival pushed off Monday for shattered Joplin, Mo., where thousands of beleaguered homeowners are awakening to the full import of rebuilding after the worst tornado in modern American history carved a broad scar across the face of their city.

A convoy of local chefs and musicians load up the trucks and busses with seafood, cooking equipment and volunteers to be dispatched to Joplin, Mo., from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Monday, June 6, 2011, to encourage volunteers doing tornado relief there. The event is headed by “The Taste Buds, Three Chefs, One Mission” made up by Chefs Greg Reggio, Hans Limburg and Gary Darling.

“We know what it’s like to be in a situation where you’ve lost everything. And we know the importance of being able to lift spirits,” said Greg Reggio, an owner of Zea’s and Semolina restaurants.

Behind him, a convoy bearing a donated soundstage, a generator, cooking gear and supplies of frozen shrimp, oysters, fish and alligator — with the chefs to prepare it — prepared to leave the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Reggio said they planned to arrive in Joplin at 2 a.m., set up a stage in a local park, and for three hours late Tuesday afternoon provide free food to homeowners and volunteers alike, with music by fiddler Amanda Shaw.

As it happened, nearby at the Convention Center, about 4,500 visitors from around the country, many of them clergy or directors of nonprofit groups, were beginning a three-day National Conference on Volunteering and Service devoted to sharing best practices in the universe of volunteer work.
chefs-reggio-bush.jpgView full sizeChef Greg Reggio chats with Neil Bush, chairman of the Points of Light Institute, as local chefs and musicians load up trucks and buses for a volunteer mission to Joplin, Mo.

Associated with that was a separate session hosted by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which invited clergy and other workers from churches, synagogues and masjids to browse among federal health, housing and education programs that might help them with their local neighborhood work.

Just before the volunteers’ departure, John Gomperts, director of the volunteer service agency AmeriCorps, said the tornado-damaged landscape in Joplin is beyond his powers of description.

One indicator of its scope he took from a weekend visit: The tornado that hit the city of 50,000 two weeks ago left more debris to be carted off than the 9/11 attacks in New York City.

Yet, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in seeing off the convoy, the American tradition is “to run toward trouble, rather than away from it.”

Gomperts said AmeriCorps has established a central clearinghouse in Joplin that in two weeks has logged in 14,000 volunteers.
chefs-handtruck.jpgView full sizeThe plan to put on a three-hour music and food fest is designed to encourage volunteers doing tornado relief in Joplin, Mo.

Reggio and some chef-friends said they have already made one relief run to the Tuscaloosa area, which was badly damaged by a cluster of violent tornadoes in late April. He said they knew a trip to Joplin was in their future when Landrieu, who last month established a “Pay it Forward” fund principally to aid victims of Mississippi River flooding, asked them to make the trip now.

The chefs and their friends are not the only New Orleanians who have responded to the tornado disasters.

For example, members of Metairie’s Celebration Church have made one relief trip to the Tuscaloosa area with supplies and gift cards, said its pastor, the Rev. Dennis Watson. They soon will travel to Joplin to advise pastors and others on setting up long-term counseling centers, operating off their own Katrina experiences here, Watson said.

Reggio is one of the so-called Taste Buds, three friends and business partners — the others are Gary Darling and Hans Limburg — who do occasional charity work outside the restaurant business. They and others recently held a weekend fundraiser for restaurateur Michael Bordelon of Liuzza’s, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident.

Reggio said the Joplin trip is a tiny contribution to a huge task, but is intended as an emotional lift as clean-up fatigue sets in.

“Remember how it felt when the Saints came back to the Superdome — how it felt in there?” he asked. “We won’t have that effect — but if just for an hour or so we can help people forget just a little about their struggle up there, we can let ‘em know we care about them.

“We know what they’ve been through. We know they helped us when we needed help. So we’re paying it forward.”

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Remodelers Expect Market Gains During 2011

Remodelers Expect Market Gains During 2011

January 27, 2011 – The latest National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Remodeling Market Index (RMI) edged up to 41.5 in the fourth quarter of 2010, compared to 40.8 in the third quarter. An RMI below 50 indicates that more remodelers say market activity is lower compared to the prior quarter than report it is higher. The RMI has been running below 50 since the final quarter of 2005.

The overall RMI combines ratings of current remodeling activity with indicators of future activity like calls for bids. In the fourth quarter, the RMI component measuring current market conditions stayed flat at 43.3 from 43.4 in the previous quarter. The RMI component measuring future indicators of remodeling business increased, to 39.7 from 38.1 in the previous quarter.

“Remodelers are starting to see an uptick in interest from consumers who are considering future remodeling projects,” said NAHB Remodelers Chairman Bob Peterson, CGR, CAPS, CGP, a remodeler from Ft. Collins, Colo. “Home owners are also showing more willingness to undertake larger remodeling projects.”

All but one index for future market conditions improved during the fourth quarter. Calls for bids jumped to 47.2 (from 42.9), along with backlog of remodeling jobs at 42.6 (from 37.2), and appointments for proposals at 43.1 (from 41.9). The amount of work committed for the next three months shrank to 25.9 (from 30.3).

“Remodeling activity has been rising slowly since the first quarter of 2010. Expected improvements in the job market and the overall economy are beginning to increase homeowners’ confidence and remodelers are seeing indications that business will pick up,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “More remodeling jobs will unfold as consumers in more secure financial positions enter the remodeling market. A more robust recovery in residential remodeling will depend upon future improvements in labor and credit markets.”

Current conditions indices for remodeling improved in two regions: Midwest 54.3 (from 44.9 in the third quarter) and South 45.8 (from 42.3). However, the current indices declined in the Northeast 38.8 (from 41.6) and West 39.7 (from 49.3). Future market indicators grew significantly in nearly all regions: Northeast 49.5 (from 34.0); Midwest 56.1 (from 39.4); and South 47.0 (from 37.9). Only the West region reported some decline at 39.7 (from 41.0). Major additions also expanded to 48.6 (from 45.8), but minor additions dipped slightly to 43.9 (from 46.4), while maintenance and repair stayed flat at 37.0 (from 37.1).

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