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Brentwood hosts fight for, against food trucks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 9, 2013: Food trucks started as a sign of city living, but they have been growing in the county for some time. And a number of St. Louis County communities are not happy about them.

Some municipalities have placed a total ban on food trucks, as Maplewood did recently. Others allow them without regulation. Brentwood has found itself somewhere in the middle.

On June 26, the Planning and Zoning Commission Committee addressed the issue and is now weighing the options.

Talking about the competing interests presented by the idea of having food trucks, Committee Chairman Michael Daming said, “I think the majority of people that have an opinion on food trucks like the variety and convenience factors provided. But that needs to be weighed against the opinion of brick-and-mortar restaurants that have made an investment in the community.”

Some brick-and-mortar restaurants are not pleased with food trucks entering Brentwood in any way.

“I think food trucks have legitimacy. I think there are times and places they’re useful. I think they’re useful in special events, and I think they’re also maybe beneficial in underserved communities. But, overall, to just allow food trucks everywhere, I think this will be almost like an urban guerilla warfare on restaurants,” said Lily Seymour, who owns a Subway restaurant in Brentwood.

Seymour said that food trucks in her smaller community should be banned.

“If one street corner doesn’t work, they can pack up and go to another one, whereas a brick-and-mortar business has a five- or 10-year commitment,” she said. “We are celebrating our 25th year of business in the city of Brentwood. … Which food truck will have that commitment?”

Casey Friedrichs, the owner of Twin Oaks, a restaurant specializing in wood-fired pizzas, said he has not noticed a significant affect of the food trucks on his business, but he could see how they would affect other restaurants.

"That's potentially taking money out of businesses' pocket and tax dollars out of the city. Anyone who can travel to and fro ... is definitely going to take a toll on the financial health," he said.

Friedrichs agreed with Seymour that food trucks could serve a purpose at private functions, charity events or festivals. As for day-to-day business, though, "they shouldn't be allowed to park in parking lots of restaurants," he said.

People who live and work in the community, though, may see the benefits of allowing food trucks.

Amy Cavar, who works in the Brentwood area, has not eaten at a food truck, but she was in favor of their presence because of the variety that they would add. She said they would provide a more local, mom-and-pop choice as compared to the franchises in the area.

As for the potential problems the trucks could cause for brick-and-mortar restaurants, Cavar said “there’s always a risk, but it will force them to step up their game.”

Some jurisdictions require a license for food truck vendors, including an application fee. That attempts to mediate the food truck tug-of-war by bringing in funds to the city and balancing the lack of sales tax from the trucks.

David Plufka, a member of Brentwood's Planning and Zoning Commission, is considering that option, but has not yet settled on a solution. He originally "had the opinion that [food trucks] were overall a good thing, but the more I talked to people and the more I thought about it, I’m really undecided.”

Plufka said he hopes to make a decision based on further discussions with the commission and the people of the community, and that he encourages anyone with an opinion to share it.

The next chance to do so will be on Wednesday, July 10, when the Planning and Zoning Commission will meet and possibly make a vote in regard to the food trucks.

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