Where the food trucks aren’t — and what you can do to help

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I went to Tacoako Tuesday yesterday, half-knowing in my heart what I’d find, but still stunned at the sight when I got there: at 12:15 p.m., the entire block along Ilalo Street devoid of food trucks, and only two parked on Cooke Street.

Why I nearly cried: Here’s the same street last Oct. 12, when my happy blog about the spontaneously growing weekly confab across from the UH Medical School assured food truck fans they had a solid reason to drive to Kakaako every Tuesday at lunchtime.
 

There were a dozen trucks that day last fall (including Inferno’s Wood Fire Pizza’s tent); one vendor told me there had been 14 the week before. Even last week, with Tacoako regulars Shogunai Tacos, Momo Burger and The Curb truck diverted to UH-Manoa on temporary contracts, eight or nine trucks showed up. Below is the scene last week, shot by @harrycovair.

So what happened? For months now, police have been enforcing an old law that prohibits “any itinerant vendor, peddler or huckster” from doing business in the same spot on any public street for more than 15 minutes. Word is police showed up at Tacoako last Tuesday, took down license plate numbers and driver’s license info, and drove away. Nearly everyone got the message. Tacoako Tuesday is all but dead.

Already cited: Aloha Ice Cream Tricycle, Tiki Truck and a handful of others. The penalty? A date in traffic court, a possible fine of up to $1,000 and up to 30 days in jail. Aloha Ice Cream’s Kathy Sills had her second day in court yesterday; her case is still pending. Tiki Truck’s Abe Jazzmin went to court this morning. He’s already said he has more time than money, so if it comes down to it, will have to take the jail sentence over the fine. The prosecutor agreed to wait to find out the broader fate of all the trucks.

At this point, the outcome of individual court cases doesn’t matter. Aloha Ice Cream is effectively off the street. Among Tacoako regulars, Inferno’s temporarily moved to a private lot. Da Ala Cart set up in a different part of town. Other trucks are scrambling to find safer places, looking at private lots where monthly rents are often prohibitive, or simply shut down.

Like Puffettes, a dessert waffle truck that sold out at last Friday’s massively successful Eat the Street food truck rally: “I just closed,” owner Kent Lee told me. “I can’t afford to hire a lawyer or (pay) the ticket. It destroyed my business.”

Does this seem wrong to you? Food trucks cross the same t’s and dot the same i’s as every other startup, and as food businesses have the added requirements of securing commercial kitchens, state Department of Health approvals and motor vehicle insurance. Then they source ingredients, shop, cook, market themselves through social media or any other low-cost means they can think of, build up followings — and get chased off the streets. Legally.

“It could kill an industry,” says Poni Askew, who organizes Eat the Street. The monthly street food rally started in January 2011 with 10 food trucks; last Friday it drew nearly 30. Askew says she’s seen the number of registered mobile food vendors similarly triple in the same period, from about 100 islandwide to about 300 today. They’re tiny, industrious startups, they diversify our foodscape with down-home to upscale mobile eats, and judging from the way they sell out at Tacoako Tuesday and Eat the Street, we still can’t get enough of them.

So now what?

“This law is vague,” says Marcus Landsberg, the attorney representing Aloha Ice Cream and Tiki Truck. “And a law being void for vagueness is one way we get laws changed.”

You can help change this law. It’s not hard: Just phone or email the City Council and let them know you support the amendment to Bill 59, which would let mobile food vendors do business on public streets for up to three hours.

If you really feel strongly, you can come down to Honolulu Hale (the historic Spanish-style building at Punchbowl and King) at 1 p.m. this Thursday, March 1, for the Transportation Committee’s hearing on Bill 59. The hearing room is at the top of the wide staircase on the second floor. Park in the municipal garage underneath (entrances on Alapai and Beretania), in the metered parking lot in front of the court building across King Street, or in metered street parking in the Kawaiahao area.

If you come to Thursday’s hearing, you will not have to speak unless you want to. You can just sit with me and other supporters. I’ve just called the City Council about my support, and I’m about to email now.

“We need essentially the biggest amount of support for this hearing,” says Askew. This is the second of three hearings on this bill, and like any bill, the revised Bill 59 could be killed at any of these hearings. “The second hearing is most vulnerable. It’s the make-it-or-break-it hearing. If it passes second, then something drastic probably has to happen for it not to pass on the third.”

Call: Office of Breene Harimoto, City Council Transportation Committee chairman, 808-768-5008. Say you support the amendment of Bill 59 on food trucks.

Email: gmurayama@honolulu.gov, jtachibana@honolulu.gov, gkim@honolulu.gov, AND bharimoto@honolulu.gov. Say you support the amendment of Bill 59 on food trucks.

Email testimony: Go to http://www1.honolulu.gov/council/emailtrans.htm. And cc: bharimoto@honolulu.gov on the email. Subject line: “Transportation Committee Testimony in SUPPORT of Amending Bill 59.” Include your name and address in the email. Say why you support the food trucks.

Come in person to show your support: Thursday, March 1 at 1 p.m.
Honolulu Hale, second floor City Council Hearing Room
530 S. King Street

22 comments
MarkLandsberg
MarkLandsberg

Two corrections: 1. Kathy's case was NOT dismissed yesterday.  It is still pending. 2. Abe's case will be dismissed by the PROSECUTORS not the judge.  Judge's can't really make a promise like that.  Otherwise, people need to let the legislators know this is an important issue.

johngarcia
johngarcia moderator

Show you support for Hawaii's food truck movement by showing up at Honolulu Hale at 1pm tomorrow for a hearing in support of Bill 59 on food trucks. RSVP to attend tomorrow's hearing: http://twtvite.com/HIFoodTruckRally

streetgrindz
streetgrindz

Thank you all for your continued support during this whole fiasco. Your voice really does make a difference, and needs to be heard. Mahalo Mari for the great write up, shedding light on the subject.   

tchaten
tchaten

Just called in to voice my support! Call in today - easy to do!

johngarcia
johngarcia moderator

Is there a twtvite for this effort? If not, I'll put one together now. Also — here's a comment from Facebook. I want thoughts on this:

 

Jae Kwak "Unlike. No free rent for food trucks so they can compete with rent and property tax paying establishments. They should sublease space if need be from private landowners."

 

Here was my response:

 

John Garcia ‎"Jae Kwak — great thought and thanks for the input! Do you envision a situation or area on private land or in a sanctioned space where a "food pod" could exist? I know they do these in Portland and other areas. Wonder if this has been thought of or discussed amongst stakeholders? CC Poni Askew"

 

Any thoughts?

Jerome Koehler
Jerome Koehler

I will try to make it tomorrow Mari to show my support of the food trucks.

WERUreo
WERUreo

It's so sad to hear about what's been going on with the Hawai'i food trucks.  When I was in Hawai'i last summer, Tacoako Tuesday was my first chance to experience just a handful of them.  There was only four trucks there that day, including @tikitruck .  My mom got hooked on Abe's tacos and would get them every time he parked down on Mililani St. right outside her office.  When I read that post on Nonstop about how big Tacoako Tuesday had gotten, I was super impressed and excited for our next trip this summer.

 

Then I started hearing about Abe getting warned, and then ticketed, by HPD and how they basically cleared out Tacoako Tuesday.  There's just something so wrong about it all.  The food truck scene is Hawai'i has been blowing up for at least the last year, thanks to Nonstop and @streetgrindz  and whoever else.  It would be a shame for it all to go away because of this antiquated law.

 

If I were in Hawai'i tomorrow, I would totally be supporting Hawai'i food trucks at Honolulu Hale, but I'll have to settle for the moral support from across the US.  Here's hoping for a big win tomorrow.  I've already bought my tickets to Hawai'i and will be there for, hopefully, a June Eat the Street event! :D

turkfontaine
turkfontaine

“any itinerant vendor, peddler or huckster"?  i don't think Aloha Ice Cream Tricycle is the same thing as a meth-head in reeking silver painted coveralls and bike helmet doing half-assed "robot" moves across from the Hyatt. this is the kind of stuff that happens when you write ambiguous laws with not enough spine to stand up straight about the problem

sumosushigirl
sumosushigirl

Thanks for your support Mari!  This was the 2nd time an officer came and took my drivers license at Tacoako Tuesday.  With 2 young children, I can't risk going to jail for 30 days and I would have to sell 400 tacos to pay a $1,000 fine.  I hope Bill 59 is ammended, if not me and 6 others will be applying for unemployment!

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

 @MarkLandsberg thnx. i changed the wording re kathy's to 'still pending' but left wording on abe's case, since i didn't mention anything abt dismissal there. unless u mean the PROSECUTORS will base a decision on the fate of bill 59?

MarkLandsberg
MarkLandsberg

 @johngarcia The problem is if you use the law to protect one business and exclude another, I hope there's a good reason.  What about law limiting bookstores of "under a certain size" to a particular part of the city, functionally, what a "food pod" would do.  Clearly, there's things restaurants can cook that a food truck cannot.  Why can't restaurants compete on food, value, ambiance?  My wife sure as hell won't let me take her on our anniversary to a food truck (no matter how nice Abe's Gyros are).  Restaurants are the false enemy of a food truck.  

If a cheap lawyer operates downstairs from me, I'm okay.  He's not going to steal my business.  People aren't coming to me ONLY because of my price (although that's reasonable too!). They're coming because of the service I provide. 

And since food trucks NEED a commercial grade kitchen, they actually pay restaurants anyway...

Jerome Koehler
Jerome Koehler

 @johngarcia Well, I partially agree, but they do have to pay for registration, gasoline, maintenance, and other fees.  It isn't like food trucks just magically appear.  I do like the idea of a food pod where they could all convene.  In my opinion, restaurants and food trucks should be working together to make the laws more friendly to their businesses.  If both sides attempt to create reforms together, I believe it will be best for both parties.  I might just be off base though...

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

 @WERUreo ur mom can call the city council office in the blog and tell them she supports amending bill 59. do u think she might? as for u, make sure u stop by the nonstop booth at ets in june! @tikitruck  @streetgrindz 

nonstopmari
nonstopmari moderator

 @turkfontaine u have a legal background? u cut right to the core of many ppl's problems w/ the existing bill: the possibilities and impossibilities of its vagaries.

MarkLandsberg
MarkLandsberg

 @nonstopmari Yes. It's the Honolulu Office of the Prosecuting Attorney who agreed to dismiss Abe's case based on whether the bill passes on doesn't pass.  The judge gave gave us a quizzical look and then shook head that this was a crime. And that's when I said (I think Abe will confirm this) "Yes judge, that's the look we all have when we first hear this is a criminal offense."

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