The Jew And The Carrot

Waging the War for Food Trucks

By Elizabeth Alpern

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When asked which was harder, dealing with city regulations of opening a food truck or taking on the challenges of kashrut for a restaurant on wheels, Lowell Bernstein, co-owner of Takosher in Los Angeles, the first ever Glatt kosher taco truck, replied, “kashrut, without a question.” Takosher’s owners spent months working out a “kosher program” with rabbis, and that was after the long search for a mashgiach, or kosher supervisor, even up for the job.

But kashrut is not the only challenge Bernstein and other food truck owners are facing. Running a food truck is wrought with obstacles. In many cities across the U.S., including Los Angeles, the hub of the current American food truck craze, the proliferation of food trucks has been met with less than open arms by some. City officials in Washington, DC and Sacramento have introduced legislation making it tough for trucks to open and keep operating. They claim food carts unfairly compete with brick and mortar businesses, ignore zoning laws, leaving behind litter and overstaying their welcome in precious urban parking spaces.

In June of this year, L.A. Council member Tom LaBonge introduced two motions “to create specific parking areas for food trucks… and establish fines for trucks that repeatedly violate city and county codes.” He has been deemed an enemy of the highly organized food truck community and a city population devoted to the cheap gourmet lunch.

The conflict is not only being waged on the streets and in city hall. Facebook pages like “Los Angelinos Against LaBonge”, countless articles editorializing the “food fight” and public radio debates are taking on the issue as well.

Most recently at an August 11 meeting, a panel of City Council members met with restaurant owners, truck owners and local residents to discuss the two motions and propose solutions. But no conclusions were reached and a 60-day period was set for the council [to review] (http://laist.com/2010/08/11/food_truck_meeting.php) the motions and make recommendations.

For Takosher, Bernstein says that they have no political agenda and have not yet joined either of the two well-established L.A. food truck associations. Though, given the gravity and implications of the debate, it is only a matter of time before Takosher, like all trucks in L.A., will have to face the fight with City Hall.

For Fresser’s Hot Pastrami, a Jewish-style truck, which recently closed after four months on the streets of Los Angeles, the conflict with the city became a serious concern. “We noticed a rise in the unhappiness with the trucks. That was one reason that we chose to get out of it… Every day was a fight and a struggle,” said Jessica Ary, co-owner of Fresser’s.

Bonnie Bloomgarden, manager and founder of the Canter’s truck, a spin off of the classic L.A. Jewish-style deli, recognizes that politics and Jewishness are important, but prioritizes the daily operation of the truck above all. Having launched the truck about five months ago, she says, “I would really love to be more involved in both communities but my focus right now is first and foremost to run the truck”.

And so for now in Los Angeles and cities facing similar challenges, be it from the rabbi or the state, lunch will go on.


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