Wednesday, May 16, 2012

After Many Months Of Anticipation, Still No Mobile Food Trucks For Restaurant Starved Roosevelt Island Population - What Is The Problem?

 Image Of Battery Park City Mobile Food Truck Area

So, what's the status of Mobile Food Trucks being allowed to operate on Roosevelt Island?

To recap, remember last December 6 2011 Luke's Lobster Roll Food Truck was parked on the West Promenade Road opposite Starbucks ready to serve the hungry, restaurant starved Roosevelt Island community when the Food Truck Operator was told to leave by the Public Safety Department because they did not have a Roosevelt Island permit, though they did have all necessary New York City permits.

After much debate, on February 16, 2012 the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) staff came up with a food truck killing plan, approved by the RIOC Directors, to allow mobile food trucks at 4 locations but not in the most desirable and convenient location for Roosevelt Island residents - on the West Promenade near the subway.

 Image of West Promenade Road Just North Of Subway Station

After further debate, on March 21, 2012 a plan to allow mobile food trucks by the West Promenade Road just north of the subway station was approved by the RIOC Directors.

Here we are now in the middle of May and there are still no Mobile Food Trucks serving Roosevelt Island. No Luke's Lobsters, No Mexicue, No Rickshaw Dumplings, No Waffles and Dingles, No Van Leeuwen Ice Cream or any of the many wonderful Mobile Food Trucks serving other NYC neighborhoods. Why?

On May 10, I sent the following inquiry to RIOC President Leslie Torres, VP of Operations Fernando Martinez and the RIOC Directors:
I am following up on inquiries below regarding status of Mobile Food Truck vendor permits for West Channel Road and other locations on Roosevelt Island. I believe it has been at least 6 weeks since the permits for the West Channel Road were approved by the RIOC Board and more than 2 months for the other locations.

Are the permits available now and if not, when do you anticipate they will be ready?
Why has the Mr Softee Ice Cream Truck been able to obtain a permit but no other vendors?
Mr. Martinez replied on May 14:
We have been in contact with 2 mobile food vendors, and they are putting together the necessary documentation to vend on Roosevelt Island.  They should be in operation shortly.
I responded on May 15:
Just to clarify your response. During April 30 RIOC Operations Committee meeting, RIOC Director Margie Smith asked when Mobile Food trucks would be available on Roosevelt Island.

You replied that RIOC received two inquiries from possible vendors and that RIOC was still in the process of preparing a permit application form for the food truck vendors. You also indicated that the application form would be available hopefully at the end of that week.

I looked for the mobile food truck permit application on the RIOC web site but did not see one.

Are the RIOC mobile food vending permit documents completed and is RIOC waiting for applications to be submitted by interested vendors before their issuance? Or is RIOC still in the process of preparing the permit application document?

If the permit applications are available, can you please send me the link from RIOC's web site.

Thank you.
Will update when response is received.

During this time RIOC has managed to issue a mobile food truck permit to the Mr. Softee truck and a waterfront food concession for the West Promenade Subway Pier but not to mobile food truck vendors.

Also, no response yet from RIOC as to who was the second bidder for the West Promenade Subway Pier waterfront food concession and reason for selecting the winner. Also, not known is how much of the public pier space will be removed from public use.


Ratso123 said...

How come there is an ice cream truck parked by the Tram at night?  It either has a permit from RIOC or it is operating illegally. Many PSD vehicles have seen the truck, but it is still in operation.  What gives?

Mark Lyon said...

For a few weeks, they were operating illegally.  I requested a copy of the permit in March.  They did have a permit for March 13 to April 13 (at a cost of $345), which I assume has been renewed.  At the same time, RIOC has refused to issue other food truck permits.  

alicep spaulding said...

RIOC sucks, it's like we are living in the Hunger Games!

Carolyn Meitzner said...

this is ridiculous, and seems to be obviously due to favoritism. It's insane that Riverwalk Bar & Grill would win the food concession, they are right there anyway! How will we ever bring the incredible variety and quality of food NYC offers to Roosevelt Island if this food monopoly continues?!

Westviewer said...

I think you mean "protectionism."   Until Roosevelt Island is recognized as a New York City  neighborhood one subway stop on the F train from midtown Manhattan, we will remain a backwater.  I had hopes that Hudson-Related was sophisticated enough to overcome this mindset, but the Roosevelt Island Rule has prevailed:  whatever is on this island has to be the worst of its kind. 

Salvatore Anthony Hoo said...

Carolyn, how can you say it's favoritism? Are you aware that on the day of the mandatory walk through of the waterfront space for all interested parties, we were the only ones that cared enough to show up? Knowing that, do you still think it's "insane" that we were granted the space?
        We are invested in this island and continue to try to make advancements in growing the Roosevelt island community and what is available to it's residents. Let me repeat that we are doing all different food on the waterfront. Does that matter or is all you care about is that WE are doing it? If it were someone else with the same exact business plan would it make you happier?   

Westviewer said...

I think she is saying that, and I'm saying "protectionism" because the way the RFP was drawn up meant that only Riverwalk would be able to fulfill the requirements.  Okay, that's in the past.  Now, give us something good that we can be happy about. 

YetAnotherRIer said...

Good point. Only an existing business who has facilities in the vicinity of the waterfront can make this location work to a point that it can actually contribute to the bottom line.

Denise Shull said...

 Give us a new truly upscale something - a wine bar, a lobster truck ...something that caters to people who don't want bar food, won't eat at Trellis and can't afford sashimi every night!

And it is favoritism because no sane vendor not already here would take that bet. You wouldn't have and you know it!

Salvatore Anthony Hoo said...

Ms. Shull, I do not know you, but based on the response above tells me all that I need to know and this will be the last time I spend my time responding to you.

 #1.. based on your statement, you believe that a lobster truck falls under "a new truly upscale something."

#2.. "a truly upscale something" comes with truly upscale prices. Yes it would be nice to have but as you said about Fuji East, people would not be able to afford to go there all of the time which goes back to the point I've made on this blog several times that the island cannot support such a place.

#3.. You cannot say its favoritism that we got the waterfront AND say no one else wants to do it. Favoritism would suggest that there were tons of interested parties and we were given it IN FAVOR of all the others. 

Denise Shull said...

 Hmmm... lots of people order from Fuji East, Samosa Bites, Blue Streak Wines, Gaw Gai ... I however would like to order as decent Chinese and Mexican as one can get on the other side of the river. I would also like to have say the Mexican food truck that sits at 25th and Broadway. Sure the tacos are $4.00 but they are spectacular.

Look you have bar food and a pizza place - the burgers are good but it is still a sports bar.

I suggest you send a market researcher to The Octagon one night and count the deliveries. Since you are the only one who can operate a restaurant here, maybe you will come up with a concept they will order from. 500 apartments - 1 night a week - a $35 average tab ... do the math.

Frank Farance said...

Mr. Lyon, as we saw last December, simply treating these NYC streets as NYC streets, we would have food trucks.  The problem is: (1) RIOC won't designate any Mobile Food Vendor parking (or non-metered, but timed parking), (2) which then allows PSD to chase them away.  RIOC is overregulating in this area.

A potential solution that completely circumvents RIOC is for the PTA to allow some food trucks on their green market footprint on Saturdays.  Sure, it's not perfect, but it is within the current permitting (I believe).

I agree with Ms. Shull that a taco truck would be great (mine is 36 St & Bway in Astoria).  Ditto for Astoria's shwarma stand (30 St & Bway).  However, Ms. Shull's comments do not necessarily conflict with Mr. Hoo's, let's see what he will provide.

Lastly, the food trucks need to cover the Island: Octagon, MP, Northtown ... not just Southtown.

Mark Lyon said...

I agree.  There are some spots that aren't metered parking but which would be legal for food trucks (assuming they were standing and occupied by a licensed driver at all times).  RIOC's inconsistent approach with their control over the roads is just begging for a challenge - both from users like food trucks that are being illegally chased away and from drivers who are being overcharged for tickets.

CheshireKitty said...

The unhealthy commercial climate on RI (Hudson-Related seems to have "influence" in crafting prohibitively expensive regulations regarding food trucks - effectively protecting Riverwalk Grill; as well as "influencing" the terms of the RFP for the pier concession in such a way that only their own lessee - Riverwalk Grill - would be in a position to bid) is leading to unhealthy, monotonous, boring dining choices.  Can RIOC for once stand up to Hudson-Related and permit food trucks on RI by drafting realistic regulations?  Food trucks are already paying fees to the City, RI is part of the City, and it is an unbelievable (and maybe illegal) "power grab" to make food trucks pay additional fees to RIOC.  Gantry State Park over in LIC was developed by the State of NY, not the City.  Do food trucks that may sell there have to pay an additional fee to the State of NY - despite the fact that they are in LIC, NY and are already paying fees to the City?  I don't think so.  

Westviewer said...

Roosevelt Island is a perfect spot for this sort of thing, but, of course, the protectionist policies of our very local governing body won't permit it.

God forbid we should actually be part of big, bad New York City.  Much, much better to be perceived as a isolated, provincial, low-income housing development.

CheshireKitty said...

That's a great link and it's a shame RI is being cut off from the exciting innovation taking place throughout the city.  Hudson-Related could offer some empty spots at a reduced rent along Main St to these food truck outfits who may want to try out a real restaurant - we'd get the benefit of exciting cuisine and fill some store-fronts.  The one loser:  Hudson-Related.   For the time being, while the eateries see if their business takes off, they would have to forego collecting big rents.  

Mark Lyon said...

Food Truck Permit information was just posted on the RIOC site.


As expected, the process seems to be designed to ensure we never see food trucks on the island and demonstrate that RIOC doesn't understand what makes food trucks fun and spontaneous.  

First, trucks can only vend from (1) Lighthouse Park, (2) Octagon Soccer Field, (3) Tram Park / Visitor's Center or (4) Southpoint Park.  There's no chance of subway commuters ever seeing these spots, and the Park/Field locations are only really viable on weekends.  

Second, the permits must be purchased for a minimum of 3 months, at a cost of $345 per month.  There's no opportunity for vendors to try it out or, like I asked, for a resident to purchase a permit and allow multiple trucks to operate under it for a month (one truck at a time).  Any truck wanting to operate must pony up $690 to start (over and above the costs of the All-City permit and the mandatory garaging of their truck at a licensed commissary).

Third, while the application doesn't expressly indicate same, it appears they intend to issue only one permit for each location. (The application says "Each year on April 1st, all sites will become available for reassignment"). Since Mr. Softee is already working the Tram, the only other spots are the Parks and Fields.  No space was provided near the subway, even though it appeared to be the direction of the Board to allow vending from metered parking near the subway.

Fourth, RIOC requires a description of the items to be sold, the design of the truck and the names of the people who will work there. Will these criteria be used to approve or disapprove vendors based on what they sell?  Would a Pizza truck or a BBQ truck be turned away? 

RIOC also wants to be named as insured for $2M in insurance for each food truck.  By getting themselves into this licensing scheme, they now are concerned about liability.  If they instead allowed use of the streets in accordance with the law, they could fully disclaim all liability. 

This is an incredibly disappointing result.  While RIOC has been scrambling around trying to find ways to extract a bit more money from vendors, we've seen the food trucks hold wonderful rallies in Brooklyn and elsewhere in the city.  The Corporation had an opportunity here to give residents more choices and make the island a more livable and enjoyable place, but has instead decided a protectionist policy is best.

If any mobile food vendors would like to give vending on RI a try without a RIOC permit but in compliance with NYC rules, let me know.  I will be happy to discuss pro bono representation.

YetAnotherRIer said...

I was also really disappointed to see the map. I assume the "Existing Vendor" in the subway station area is the fruit stand. Why would anybody else be excluded from this zone just because of a guy selling fruits? I agree with Mark, this was setup to discourage food trucks here on this island. None of the parks are visited well enough to make it worth the efforts to apply for these spots. Maybe once the Four Freedoms Park is open. Maybe...

Thank you, RIOC! Awesome job. You guys really have the island and its residents at heart.

RooseveltIslander said...

 I asked about food truck permit at tonight's Operations Committee meeting. According to RIOC VP Of Operations Fernando Martinez, the omission of location on West Promenade for food truck permit near the subway was a mistake. The map will be corrected to reflect that up to 3 food trucks can obtain a license for that area.

Also, after the urging of RIOC Directors at the OPS Committee meeting, RIOC staff agreed to reverse 3 month minimum permit requirement but to require a 1 month permit.

Mark Lyon said...

WNYC just posted an interesting article on Mobile Food Vending:

mpresident said...

I'm not complaining, but why are ice cream trucks not considered food trucks?