Twitter trucks, taco trucks, gourmet food trucks. Whatever they’re called, they’ve been all the rage as cult followers and curious newbies stalk the streets of Los Angeles seeking their mobile delicacies. With hundreds of gourmet food trucks now in Los Angeles and a devoted following in tow, the Oxnard Downtown Management District (ODMD) was hoping to catch a spark from the food truck revolution and be the first city in Ventura County to feature a gourmet food-truck night.
But as the April launch date was nearing, permit applications were being sought, and even with county public health on board, city officials clammed up and sided with caution.
“We went ahead and too fast for what the city was comfortable with as far as ordinances go,” said Abel Magaña, executive director for the ODMD. “There is nothing out there that regulates mobile food facilities and that could cause issues with brick-and-mortar businesses.”
The plan was to bring six to 10 food trucks from Los Angeles to North Fifth Street, along Plaza Park on Thursday evenings, with the intent of bringing a new market and demographic to downtown. Trucks were deliberately being selected for cuisine that would be noncompetitive with surrounding restaurants, and Southern California Mobile Food Vendor’s Association had expressed interest in setting up the event. ODMD members visited other successful food truck venues like Tuesday nights in Santa Monica, taking note of the bike valets and the 500 patrons fraternizing in the streets, and how that type of exposure could lead to successful marketing campaigns for nearby restaurants to reach a whole new crowd.
Additionally, creating a vibrant social setting in Downtown Oxnard would help dispel the unsafe label the district has garnered and bring attention to new restaurants in the area, said Magaña.
“Food trucks bring people together. It’s about hanging out and talking to each other,” Magaña said. “We have a window of opportunity to do something here while it’s still a fairly new idea. We don’t want to miss out and have a jump-the-shark moment.”
The controversy surrounding the food truck invasion is the impact on brick and mortar restaurants in the area. Though a core group of restaurateurs in Downtown Oxnard saw potential, there were property owners who couldn’t see past potential conflict, said Magaña.
“There is an ongoing tirade about ruining the restaurant business,” said Matthew Geller, CEO, Southern California Mobile Food Vendor’s Association (SCMFVA). “It was the same when drive-thru windows were introduced.”
Geller, who formed the SCMFVA to create one voice to work with local governments to ensure that the growth of food trucks is a positive addition for the local economy, said that markets outside of L.A. have become very curious about the phenomenon, and this next week he’ll be in Miami, New York, Boston and D.C. helping associations get started.
“This has been pitted as food trucks versus restaurants,” he said, “but that’s not the case. It’s about consumer choice, and consumers have the right to decide what they want. The more choices they have, the better the marketplace will be. It’s not fair to say that since somebody can afford to get into a brick and mortar, they should be the one to win this economic battle. I don’t see that as being good for anybody.”
With Plaza Park ruled out as a location for an Oxnard food truck night, the ODMD has been working proactively with city staff and now has its eyes set on a license agreement with Heritage Square for sometime in the summer.