As far back as Ancient Rome merchants served the public by selling “street food” in marketplaces, sporting venues, fairs and other large gatherings. Street food vending precedes restaurants by centuries. In the late 1700s, France saw the fall of the aristocracy which minimized the royal rights of the guilds (confectioners, rotisseurs, butchers) that had control over certain foods since the middle ages. Many of the guild members sold food in open air marketplaces. Back in those days restaurants were opposed vigorously by the guilds who thought that allowing patrons to sit down and eat food in the same place where it was being sold was unfair. The modern restaurant industry was born out of the public’s demand for choice and the emergence of jobless cooks, who had previously served the aristocracy. The guild opposition proved to be no match for public demand.
While street food has not been as popular in the US, larger cities are no stranger to street food. The the new gourmet food truck trend is popularizing a historically low profile industry. Much like the food guilds of post revolutionary France, restaurants today are weary of the fresh competition. Conversely, consumers are happy about the array of new choices and the reasonable prices. Lower costs of operation have allowed the trucks to introduce higher cost items such as duck confit and truffle infused eats to a larger audience.
Food trucks are often drawn to areas underserved by restaurants that have large lunchtime populations. The seemingly endless options fuel the public’s demand for the trucks and food truck lots help to keep the public aware of where the trucks will be. Food truck lots also keep trucks off the street and provide easy and safe parking.
Food truck lots have emerged out of this new industry. They’re simple parking lots or open spaces that rotate trucks on a daily or weekly basis. Finding a truck can be difficult due to their mobility, but a food truck lot is always in the same place, with a rotating variety of food.
The food truck lot on Century Boulevard near LAX operates once a week. A partnership between the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors’ Association and the Gateway to LA Business Improvement District (BID) provides area workers (around 800 every Tuesday) a comfortable place to eat with a rotating variety of trucks. The BID provides tables and chairs and a band for the patrons. Office workers who would normally drive to El Segundo or Westchester for lunch, walk to the lot from their offices. That area of Los Angeles benefits immensely from reduction in area car trips.
Street food has been around for centuries and the recent upswing in public demand will ensure that is around for years to come. Cities should embrace the trend and work with the industry to maximize their benefits to the public. Instead of limiting their access, cities should be encouraging trucks to service areas where need is the greatest. Cities can do this by authorizing lots and allowing trucks to book into parking spaces.