HOUSTON – A fight over food trucks is brewing downtown. Proposed change to Houston’s ordinance regulating those trucks found has strong opposition.
They sell filet mignon on a bun, Vietnamese street-style, at Phamily Bites. They cook everything inside a tiny kitchen barely big enough for three people. Outside, there are no tables or chairs. There is just a big controversy brewing over food trucks and where they should park.
"We are not the ‘roach coaches’ of yester year," said Mark Tran, one of three of Phamily Bites’ co-owners. "First of all, we are providing quality food, excellent ingredients at a reasonable price and we’re bringing it to the people."
They market only online through Twitter and Facebook. They even have a rewards program for repeat customers. However, like Houston’s other 939 licensed food trucks, Tran’s business is banned downtown. Also, food trucks using propane tanks cannot operate within 60 feet of one another.
Change is on city council’s agenda but it met opposition the moment proposed food truck ordinance changes were introduced in a committee Tuesday morning.
"I’m concerned," said C.O. "Brad" Bradford, an at-large councilman.
"I really don’t know where to start," said James Rodriguez, another councilman who represents the downtown area.
"I don’t like (the proposed changes) at all," said Andrew Burks, Jr., another city council member. "I’ll be outright with you. I’m not going to vote for it. You can change it anyway you want to. Do not bring it."
Burks, Jr. said he is concerned about the number of propane tanks that could be in use downtown. He believes it is a safety issue. Others are siding with downtown restaurant owners who have invested millions in downtown redevelopment.
For them, seeing an unknown numbers of food trucks, exempt from paying property or occupancy taxes, roll in feels unfair. The Greater Houston Restaurant Association doubts that city regulators can keep track or keep up with food trucks.
"Our concern is when we unleash all of this and de-regulate all of the food trucks, the city of Austin, Los Angeles, Portland, many of them have done that," said Michael Shine of the GHRA. "They’ve seen expansion of 100%, 200% or 300%."
"The general belief is we’re just going to roll into downtown, which isn’t the case," Tran said.
Because food truck owners could only park on private property with written permission, Tran believes only a handful of trucks will be able to move downtown. However, he insists just having the opportunity means a lot.
"That’s why we’re here to serve people our food," Tran said.