BOISE -- It's been a food truck rally weekend in the Treasure Valley. On Friday, the mobile kitchens were in Boise. On Saturday, four food trucks kicked off the trend in Nampa in Lloyd Square.
Trucks banned in center of downtown Boise
The rallies come partly as a fun way to do business, but they're also the result of a need for truck owners to be creative and draw a crowd to them. That's because kitchens on wheels aren't allowed on public streets in the heart of downtown Boise.
"I would love to see the city of Boise lift the ban of food trucks and create more of a downtown Portland or metropolis atmosphere," B29 Streatery food truck owner Dustan Bristol said.
The ban started nearly 10 years ago and keeps all street vendors from selling anything in the core of downtown Boise, specifically in the Boise Business Improvement District, or Downtown BID. That area is in between 5th to 13th (east to west) and State to Myrtle (north to south).
The City of Boise spokesman Adam Park explained the council banned street vendors, and consequently food trucks, in the center of downtown mostly as a response to one truck parked at 6th and Main.
Brick and mortar businesses didn't like having mobile competition that didn't have to pay the same fees for being downtown, and with this truck, there was an air quality concern. Park said as a compromise, vendors were restricted in the Downtown BID, but allowed elsewhere with proper signage.
Bristol: ‘Gourmet food where the masses are’
Bristol started out with just a brick-and-mortar spot: his downtown Nampa restaurant Brick 29 Bistro. He branched out after being inspired by a reality show.
"I think what really inspired me was the [Food Network TV show] "The Great Food Truck Race"," Bristol said. "There's a demand for gourmet food where the masses are."
What Bristol has found difficult is the exclusion from the center of downtown Boise. But with challenges, he and others are getting creative and participating in park events and fairs and throwing their own rallies.
"Food trucks have a tough time getting into the downtown business core between 13th and 5th, so we've created an environment outside of that core with more trucks and music," Bristol said. "The rallies have been really awesome. We started last fall and we started with foodies that were very loyal to us. And what started with a couple hundred has turned into a couple thousand, easy."
John Berryhill owns restaurants within the area trucks aren't allowed. He's also president of the Downtown Boise Association, which manages the Downtown BID, partially by using funds brick-and-mortar businesses in the area are forced to pay.
Berryhill says while it would add competition, he says he likes trucks and wouldn't be totally against mobile competitors.
"I think because of this cool factor they have, I believe that they can bring more diners into downtown Boise," Berryhill said. "We like to be a culinary spot. That's a big thing. It develops culture for downtown Boise."
Berryhill: 'It has to be a win-win for everybody'
Berryhill's personal perspective is that if food trucks come into the Downtown BID, brick-and-mortar as well as mobile restaurant owners need to compromise. His suggestion is regulations on location and operation times.
"Maybe it's separated by hours of operation from brick-and-mortars," Berryhill said. "I would like to see not all these food trucks five miles away from the downtown core. I think they could be closer than that, and that there could be some kind of, maybe it's a late night thing, where the majority of restaurants don't serve late night. By 9:30, 10, [most restaurants] are all done. So, after the bar crowd."
Bristol would be open to strict regulations and seeing if food trucks might be able to integrate downtown.
"I think definitely food trucks have a different brand now, and I think that if the city could help regulate that, letting a couple trucks in and maybe tough restrictions, at least give us a chance," Bristol said.
Food truck owners are not actively organizing to get into the Downtown BID, although they are interested. They say for now, the focus remains on gathering interest through events like these rallies, which are gaining momentum.
"We've seen two more trucks in the last month," Bristol said.So as long as there's demand, more trucks will be popping up."