For some cooks in Burbank, fast food has meant the kitchen moves at least 1,000 feet every 15 minutes.
Burbank law requires food trucks to move to a new location at least 1,000 feet every quarter hour. After three hours, they can return to previous parking spots, but only after having made potential customers seek them out at 12 stops.
Gourmet food trucks — which have gained prominence with their sushi burritos, Korean barbecue, french fries and burgers made with grilled cheese sandwiches as buns and stacked with bacon, cheddar, pickles and beer soaked onions — have inundated special events and the hearts and stomachs of Southlanders in recent years. But they’ve been put on a legal exercise schedule of sorts in Burbank.
“Some are a bit more restrictive, and that presents more of a challenge, but that’s the cost of doing business,” said Michele Grant, chief executive for the Grilled Cheese Truck, which makes frequent stops in Burbank and holds permits to operate in about a dozen cities across Los Angeles County.
After the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Assn. complained in writing that Burbank’s 15-minute rule was violating state law, the city stopped enforcement in October to draft a new set of rules that comply with the California Vehicle Code.
“Once the violation was brought to our attention, we stopped enforcing it,” said Burbank Assistant Community Development Terre Hirsch. “Our time and distance restriction was not for public safety, and we do not want to violate criminal or civil code.”
Ice cream trucks, for example, are not allowed to operate within a certain distance around schools out of concern for the traffic generated and the safety of the children. The vehicles, which feature such musical mainstays as “Pop Goes the Weasel,” are also barred from parking unless they are hailed down or have a line of customers.
Licensing rules for food trucks that operate within the city limits remain in effect while officials re-evaluate the 15-minute rule, Hirsch said.
Burbank also requires trucks to be compliance with Los Angeles County health codes, a restriction that was echoed countywide when the Department of Public Health kicked off a grading program for mobile food facilities at the start of the year.
Trucks must make sure they are within a certain distance of an acceptable bathroom if they are parked for a certain length of time and clean up any trash left by patrons.
The large blue letter grades were welcomed by many operators, who said they would help remove the stigma associated with food trucks.
Chief Executive Officer for Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Matthew Geller agrees with Grant and the county.
“When that big blue “A” is staring you in the face, you know that this truck is a legitimate business,” Geller said. “You know that these guys are doing what they’re supposed to.”
The quality of the 120 trucks that belong to the food truck association may be rising, but operators of brick-and-mortar restaurants see them as a threat.
Count Aram Yegyan, owner of the Basement Café at 401 N. Brand Boulevard in Glendale, is among them.
The Hollywood Production Center, which shares an alley behind the Basement Café, recently started working with the mobile food vendors association to bring trucks each day to generate activity in the area.
“We are already struggling in this economy. These lunch trucks will steal our business, and we’re not going to make money to pay rent,” Yegyan said. “We pay taxes to the city of Glendale, and they are stealing local revenue.”
Yegyan added that he was given little notice about the trucks and was told they were brought in to generate lines and make the building appear more lively.
Hollywood Production Center referred calls about the new partnership to Geller, who likened the role of the trucks more to keeping people from jumping in their car to buy lunch as opposed to siphoning off local restaurants.
Glendale has also stopped enforcing time and distance restrictions as it drafts new regulations that comply with state regulations while making sure they’re well managed within city limits.
At the same time, “we have a commitment to our bricks-and-mortar restaurants because they contribute to the ambiance of community,” Glendale Neighborhood Services Administrator Sam Engel said.
But for the food truck industry, it’s all par for the course.
“There are a lot of different restrictions and hoops to jump through,” Grant said. “But we try to keep it super fun on the outside, and a lot of due diligence and careful planning on the inside.”