Philadelphia, the only jurisdiction in Pennsylvania to pull food trucks off the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, has heard a proposal that would allow some vendors to set up in designated private lots with restrictions.
The move would be a small consolation for hundreds of vendors, who have also lost the ability to sell at public festivals, which are verboten.
City officials confirm that they had a positive meeting Tuesday via Zoom with Matt Rossi, president of the Philly Mobile Food Association, to discuss the group’s proposal to use three private parking lots initially. The plan would be toraffle off a limited number of spots each day for three savory trucks and one dessert truck. Customers would place and pay for orders in advance then pick them up from tables next to the trucks in the lot. The windows would remain closed.
The proposed lots are on Bustleton Avenue just south of Cottman Avenue in the Castor section; on Woodhaven Road near Philadelphia Mills in the Far Northeast; and at 2401 Aramingo Ave., in a shopping center near the Girard Avenue off-ramp of I-95 in Port Richmond.
The association represents 68 vendors, many mom-and-pop businesses whose owners have been crushed financially by the shutdown, said Rossi, who owns 10 trucks as well as two Nick’s Roast Beef restaurants in Northeast Philadelphia.
All licensed and insured vendors would have access to the lot raffle, under Rossi’s proposal.
No timetable has been indicated for the proposal, and meetings continue.
Advance ordering, cashless payment, and contactless pickup, in theory, are identical to systems in place at many brick-and-mortar restaurants now offering takeout. But in practice, other restaurants insist that customers walk inside to pick up and pay for food — not ideal, when door handles, credit cards, and cash are factored in.
Trucks were allowed to operate for at least a week after sit-down restaurant service was halted in the city on March 16. But they quickly raised concerns when officials noticed customers walking up to order and milling around while waiting. All mobile vendors are treated the same under the law, regardless if they are full-size mobile vendors, small pop-up carts, or ice cream trucks. The city is also concerned about enforcement, especially when it comes to monitoring roving vendors. Under the current order, food trucks may only cook in a commissary and provide delivery.
Authorities in other jurisdictions apparently do not consider these issues to be challenges. Some Philadelphia-based trucks have even been vending legally in New Jersey.
A city spokesperson said the proposal would be reviewed by departments including Law, Public Health and L&I for compliance with the existing state and city orders. The city is preparing plans for a phased reopening in coordination with the guidelines presented by the state.
Since the rise of the food-truck movement, vendors have never had it easy. In April 2019, food trucks parked near Temple University were concerned that their futures could be in jeopardy if the city began enforcing a 2015 ordinance that required they pack up and leave their vending spots each night.