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Food trucks lined up on Marquette Avenue in downtown Minneapolis on a summer day.

ANNA REED • Star Tribune,

Let us eat lunch where our appetites lead us

  • Article by: John Levy and Katelynn McBride
  • October 24, 2013 - 12:18 PM

 

On Marquette Avenue in Minneapolis, when the food trucks line up, people show up. And with food trucks offering innovative, flavorful lunch options, it’s not hard to see why. Take AZ Canteen, which serves up andouille, oyster and crab gumbo and crispy pork belly topped with a fried egg — delicious dishes you won’t find anywhere in the skyway. From roasted pork tacos to traditional British pasties to buttery lobster rolls, Minneapolis food trucks are satisfying hungry customers by serving up some of the tastiest lunches in the Twin Cities. So why do some people want to regulate them out of existence?

Several skyway restaurant owners and building owners have asked city leaders to crack down on Minneapolis’ burgeoning food-truck scene. They want the government to limit the number of food trucks on a given block to two or three because they believe the trucks are having a disproportionate competitive impact on nearby skyway restaurants.

Of course, adopting that suggestion would mean pushing the trucks further away from the hungry downtown workers who tire of having to return to the same skyway lunches again and again.

The skyway restaurant and building owners make a number of arguments in favor of increased regulation of food trucks. One is that food trucks don’t pay property taxes and therefore have an unfair competitive advantage. Besides not being correct (because Minneapolis food trucks are required to lease space from a commercially licensed commissary, which itself pays property taxes), the argument is disingenuous.

Sure, restaurants pay property taxes, but that’s because they own or lease property — property that gives them a host of advantages over trucks. Having a fixed place of business allows restaurants to have things like wait staff, tables and chairs, and an expanded menu. They also have a monopoly on their fixed locations. They don’t have to run around every day finding a spot from which to provide their services.

Another argument skyway restaurants and building owners have advanced is that food trucks are unfairly diluting nearby restaurants’ sales ­­— that a more “balanced” approach should be taken that doesn’t take away from these restaurants’ ability to do business. They’ve even gone so far as to suggest that the city should charge a commission in the form of a percentage of sales to help fund downtown expenses.

These are not reasonable suggestions. First, let’s not forget the biggest advantage restaurants have over food trucks here in Minnesota: indoor seating. Restaurants can serve customers year-round, whereas even the hardiest of Minnesotans would not want to brave the snow and freezing cold of winter to venture out onto Marquette Avenue for lunch, no matter how delicious the gumbo. If the skyway restaurants can’t compete with food trucks under these conditions, they have only themselves to blame.

More significantly, not only would the skyway restaurants’ and building owners’ proposed regulations make the city’s downtown lunch hour less exciting, they would violate the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions. The government’s role in the regulation of food trucks (and restaurants) is to protect the health and safety of the community, not to manage competition by picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Should Netflix have been subject to regulation just because it was eating Blockbuster’s lunch?

Food trucks create jobs, contribute to the community, and encourage people to walk along the streets, get exercise and get outside.

Minneapolis leaders should keep their hands off our lunch, reject calls for anticompetitive regulations and let consumers decide where we want to buy our lunch.

 

John Levy is co-owner of AZ Canteen and the founder and president of the Minnesota Food Truck Association. Katelynn McBride is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, which litigates nationwide in support of individual rights.

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