"Street food adds life and vibrancy to the city," says Greg Smith, President of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, a group seeking to help entrepreneurs break into the industry.
While some cities, like Los Angeles, have long-standing street food scenes, others have sprouted up in recent years. Instead of the LA-style trucks that are truly mobile, cities like Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, employ a model where more-or-less stationary carts and trailers gather in designated areas.
Other cities are developing models somewhere along that spectrum; Greg Smith thinks Atlanta will end up with a hybrid approach.
"There will be multiple 'food truck lots' around the city and the trucks might move on a daily basis from lot to lot," predicts Smith.
"It's understandable that a burger restaurant wouldn't want a burger truck parked in front of their doors," says Ivan Pardo, developer of Truxmap, an app and website for tracking food trucks. "But they may want to have a waffle truck there because the truck offers something they can't provide - plus the truck attracts additional consumers to the area."
Authorities and vendors often come into conflict as street food struggles to take hold in unfamiliar territory.
Chicago has been enforcing a prohibition on cooking on trucks, forcing its vendors to prepackage everything they sell. For many operators, especially the more gourmet-minded chefs, the ability to prepare food on-site is a deal breaker.
But there are plenty of other policies that can make street food operations very difficult.
One of Atlanta's most acclaimed chefs, Pura Vida's Hector Santiago, recently had a popular weekend burrito stand shut down by local authorities because he didn't have a permit. Co-owner Leslie Santiago says they were advised that no separate permit was necessary as the food was prepared in their restaurant's kitchen and safely transported and assembled at the outdoor stand.
After being shut down, they looked into what a permit would require and found that even if they bought a truck, it's not necessarily smooth-driving from there.
"The way the regulations are currently written, food trucks cannot operate for more than a half hour in a location, and at more than two locations a day. This policy makes it unrealistic for vendors to make money," said Leslie Santiago.
They've since moved the weekend burrito operation indoors, which having a restaurant gives them the luxury of doing - but even then, they have seen a decline in their business relative to their outdoor stand.
One way to avoid some of the red tape is to stop cooking.
Some associates of Riverview Farms near Atlanta had the idea to combine two movements in the culinary world: mobility and local sustainable agriculture. They created Farm Mobile, a "mobile farmers market" that peddles produce in various locations around Atlanta - or as Elmer Veith puts it, "we're going to bring the farm field to the neighborhood, so you don't have to come to us."
Veith came up with the concept and retrofitted a Mac Tools truck to create Farm Mobile.
"The usual setup for Riverview Farms is there is a bunch of coolers, tables, tents - [and] it was one of those days in the cold and the rain when you go 'there's got to be an easier way.'"
The truck parks in one or two locations a day and customers walk in the back door and pay before exiting the front. On the sides are shelves of produce and a freezer for meats - all of it local.
Customers are alerted to the trucks location, and sometimes special contents via email, Facebook and Twitter.
"The communication aspect of the truck business is a lot of heavy lifting. It's a lot of reminding people 'we're gonna be here at this time, come see us,' and 'now we're here!'" says Suzanne Welander, who describes herself as the "left brain" of Farm Mobile.
"The fun thing is Twitter is ideally suited for communicating that way with people. Like I can tell people, 'I just picked up lettuces and I just got this, and we just reloaded dumplings!' - so it creates some excitement around where the truck is and what it's got on board."
In this way, Farm Mobile owes a lot to the new wave food trucks who are heavily involved in social media. At the same time, they are different in that selling raw food allows for fewer restrictions than serving ready to eat food. They are licensed by state authorities and the only other thing they need is permission from property owners to park on their land.
Regardless of the difficulties would-be vendors are finding, in some locations the trend may still be gaining steam.
"There isn't a week that goes by that I don't get an email from a coalition of street food vendors who want to appear on our map." says Ivan Pardo.
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