(George Harris) – I’m the proud owner of Mundo, an award-winning upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Las Vegas. I believe that a meal is a bonding experience and that food, drink, music, and laughter are at the center of a community and should be celebrated.
For that reason, I want the city council to embrace food trucks rather than try to run them out of town.
Just as restaurants like Mundo are a great asset to a local community, so are food trucks. They can revitalize a neighborhood with more variety, more foot traffic, lower food prices, and a happening scene.
Just as importantly, food trucks create jobs. There are over 125 food trucks permitted in Las Vegas, providing jobs for hundreds of people. They create new opportunities for entrepreneurs who don’t have access to that much capital. Plus, quite a few mobile vendors are young, so running a food truck gives them the first-hand experience needed to succeed in business. The city council shouldn’t stifle free enterprise, especially when almost 1 in 8 workers in Las Vegas are unemployed.
In fact, street food can be so enticing, some brick-and-mortars have even opened their own food trucks. LBS Burger created the LBS Patty Wagon, while POPS Cheesesteaks now has a mobile eatery. Jose Hernandez, general manager of POPS, says going mobile has also boosted business at the physical location. “The truck has been great advertising,” he says.
Unfortunately, the Las Vegas City Council is currently considering proposals that would prohibit food trucks from coming anywhere near my and other brick-and-mortar restaurants. Last month, the council decided to table a new food truck ordinance. Good riddance. If that had passed, mobile vendors would have been banned from selling within anywhere from 150 feet to a quarter-mile of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. At the very least, such a restriction would make it nearly impossible for food trucks—which need to be able to operate near popular commercial areas—to succeed. More likely, it would drive all food trucks from downtown.
But some of my colleagues in the restaurant business want these proximity bans to “protect” themselves from the increased competition. First, food trucks don’t hurt my business. In fact, they help my business. Tourists and locals flock to an area filled with mobile cuisine, and brick-and-mortars can benefit from all this new foot traffic. Something similar happened when bars in Fremont East were freed up. A few years back, the city decided to waive hefty license fees and scrap minimum distances for taverns in the Fremont East Entertainment District. Now there are plenty of taverns and business is booming. Banning food trucks from opening near a brick-and-mortar would be like McDonald’s trying to ban Burger King.
In addition, mobile cuisine is a very different business model than stationary restaurants. Food trucks don’t provide air conditioning (vital in the Nevada heat), bathrooms, or even a place to sit down and enjoy your meal. But they can offer cheaper meals and quicker service—attracting an entirely different clientele than a brick-and-mortar restaurant’s experience. Las Vegas residents deserve to try these trucks’ new, innovative cuisine that will only serve to enrich our local food scene. And with more competition, street chefs can offer lower prices, which ultimately benefits customers. Vegas shouldn’t fear an abundance of options. Nor should restaurants try to stifle these new, innovative competitors.
The city council was wise to table the ordinance. Las Vegas has the opportunity to lead the nation with a vibrant local culinary scene that embraces young entrepreneurs and creativity. But if councilors are serious about getting Las Vegans back to work, the council should refuse to pass any proximity bans based on protecting brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition—and I hope my fellow restaurateurs will join me in supporting freedom for the city’s food trucks.
(Mr. Harris is the Head Enchilada at Mundo: a latin chic restaurant)