Tonawanda News

June 8, 2014

Food trucks do business in Tonawanda despite dissatisfaction with regulations

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The new trend in quick eating has made its way into Tonawanda after the council approved food trucks to operate in public areas earlier this year, but the mobile vendors still aren’t satisfied with the city’s restrictions. 

“We still are going to look to have the best regulations possible, but we at least have something to go by for this summer,” Pete Cimino, co-owner of Lloyd Taco Truck, said. 

After last year’s policy expired in January, the council began discussing implementing a resolution that would institute a $250 annual fee and a 100-foot radius from the nearest brick and mortar restaurant. Cimino and Western New York Food Truck Association attorney Mitchell Stenger were both relatively happy with that proposal, but the council put off approving the measure to discuss the issue with Frank Berrafato, the owner of seasonal restaurants Mississippi Mudds and Old Man River on Niagara Street.

Berrafato then told the council that ideally, he wouldn’t want food trucks in the city at all, and argued for the radius requirement to be increased. 

“I think that needs to be pushed back, so we can have our space,” Berrafato said at a meeting in March. “Let’s protect the business owners who pay taxes, let’s protect the people who employ the students of this community.”

The council then revised its proposed resolution, changing the 100-foot radius to 150 feet and prohibiting the trucks from entering Niawanda Park at the Kohler Street entrance, which is located across the street from Mississippi Mudds.

Although some residents said the council should look out for Berrafato — whose business has been in the city for decades — Cimino and Stenger argued that the council was unfairly favoring one business over another. 

“The biggest hinderance is that they are not holding one business by the same standard that they are holding another one to,” Cimino said. 

After the resolution was passed, Stenger he would recommend that the association challenge the legislation in court. This week, though, he said that a suit will likely not be filed. 

“I don’t think the group has the financial wherewithal to do that,” he said. “I think we’ll live with the statute, see how it goes and if changes need to be made, we’ll bring those up next year ... the increase of the distance is definitely a bad precedent for us and we don’t want other municipalities to follow Tonawanda’s example.”

Only two trucks, Lloyd Taco Truck and Wine Not, have purchased permits for the 2014 season, the city clerk’s office said. Cimino said he hasn’t heard that any other operators are interested. 

“Food trucks can bring people to the city and foster revitalization,” he said. “If the city’s goal is to bring in more trucks, then they are going to need to change the legislation.” 

Lloyd Taco Truck has parked on Niagara Street twice and Cimino said he’s hoping to build on the business that was generated there. 

“It went well, nothing incredible and nothing worrisome. We’ve only been down there for a few weeks now, and we need to build up a location,” Cimino said. “People were excited about it, they were having fun, and they were happy that it finally got worked out and we could be in the park and near the park.” 

Tonawanda received two complaints during Lloyd’s first dinner on Niagara Street, city officials said. Residents had complained about the truck blocking the view of the river, but Police Chief William Strassburg said that the truck operators were abiding by the rules.

“They were really going above and beyond and were doing everything they said they would do,” Strassburg said, noting that the trash was picked up and the generator was quiet. “They couldn’t have been more cooperative.” 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.