There must have been a thousand people at Garcia Bend Park in Sacramento's Pocket neighborhood on Wednesday night for the SactoMoFo Food Festival.
Ten food trucks, offering everything from fish tacos to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to Southern-style barbecue to Belgian waffles, lined the parking lot. Eager and hungry customers, among them Sacramento City Councilman Darrell Fong and City Manager John Shirey, were there. Yours truly was also in attendance (strictly on a fact-finding tour, of course), and we all waited in long lines to sample the offerings.
As the City Council struggles to draft a workable ordinance to regulate food truck operations, the public has clearly signaled that it wants this dining option.
The food festival on Wednesday and scores more organized across the region are attracting thousands of customers. I talked to people who lived near the park and had seen the signs advertising the food fair. Others I talked to had come from as far away as Manteca and Stockton, and had learned about it from their friends' Facebook postings.
For those food truck fans, Sacramento's current rules are both unworkable and unfair and, some food truck operators argue persuasively, unlawful.
Within city limits, food trucks may not park in any location longer than 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, they must move at least 400 feet, a full block away.
Those restrictions may have worked for your granddad's food trucks, the ones that rolled onto a construction site to sell pre-made sandwiches and microwaveable pizzas. But not now, and not with the food served from the trucks at Garcia Bend.
Krush Burger (one of the most popular food truck operators in Sacramento) offers a Philly burger with grilled crimini and shiitake mushrooms, roasted bell pepper aioli and provolone cheese, cooked to order on the truck.
A burger like that takes time to prepare. So does the beer-battered fish taco plate I bought, stuffed with cabbage and salsa in a Parmesan-crusted, Jack-cheese-infused taco shell from Swabbies on the River.
The 30-minute rule is unworkable for operators who want to serve really good food. It takes 20 minutes for food truck owners just to fire up their propane stoves.
Some brick-and-mortar restaurants not all regard the food truck operators as unfair competition because they don't pay rent or property taxes. A tentative compromise hammered out between restaurant owners and food truck operators and facilitated by City Councilman Jay Schenirer seeks to loosen Sacramento's antiquated restrictions.
The proposal would ban trucks from parking within one block of any downtown restaurant but lengthen the time a food truck could stay parked to 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.
While some mobile food advocates think that any restriction not tied to health and safety is unfair, most truck operators locally seem willing to give the new proposal a chance.
Good. The mobile food trend is growing across the country, with little or no measurable detrimental impact on traditional restaurants. In fact, some of the truck owners own brick-and-mortar restaurants too. One of those, Chando Madrigal, owner of Chando's Tacos, told me he uses his food truck as a marketing tool to drive customers to his two restaurants.
So, my single foray into the mobile food world leads me to believe that the fears of many traditional restaurant owners are overblown. The customer who wants to stand on a sidewalk juggling a gourmet taco, hot dog or hamburger in one hand and a can of soda in the other is not the same customer, on the same day, who wants to sit down at a table inside an air-conditioned dining room enjoying lamb chops and a nice bottle of malbec. There is room in the market for both those dining options and more.
And finally there's this: So what if food trucks compete with brick-and-mortar restaurants? Government should not be in the business of protecting established eating establishments from new ones, so long as they all pay their taxes and meet the same health standards. As the sign at Garcia Bend Park said, "Mobile food is not a crime." I couldn't agree more.