The 2011 Boston Food Truck Challenge

Clover Food Lab has enjoyed a very successful summer in Dewey Square. Who will be the star of next summer's mobile food scene? // weeklydig.com

 

Food trucks! Long a staple of the West Coast food scene, food trucks have been gaining popularity both locally and nationally in recent times. They’re a hit with consumers (especially young ones) because they offer quick, lower-cost meal options which don’t necessarily offer a significant downgrade from restaurant-quality food. Local governments, too, are starting to pay attention to them, seeing them as a low-cost way to potentially attract foot traffic and patronage to previously underutilized public spaces. The trucks are just one part of a resurgence in the larger “street food” scene; carts, bicycles, and towable stands have all been benefitting from renewed interest in this form of straightforward food delivery. The city of Boston jumped on the bandwagon this summer when they worked with the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy to install a number of mobile food vendors on the Greenway. Now, the mayor’s office wants to do the same for City Hall Plaza

 Boston’s Mayor, Thomas Menino, seems to have become a little smitten in the recent months with the idea of mobile food, especially “healthier” mobile food. It entered onto his radar when, so goes the story, he tried a soy B.L.T. from Clover (despite being disappointed to discover it was made without meat) and, unexpectedly, loved it. Later, he was spotted at the city’s inaugural Food Truck Festival, held last August 8th in the South End. The festival was equal parts invigorating and frustrating; while hundreds showed up to patronize the trucks, carts, and stands, capacity was limited, and many waited in lines over an hour long only to find out that food items they’d been waiting for had run out. Demand handily outpaced supply, a market failure owed almost entirely to regulations preventing more food trucks from operating within the city. Some, like Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, could only sling t-shirts: they’d been waiting for months to receive their license, and as of the festival, still had not. 

Menino may have been paying attention. Eager to boost the city’s image and provide some relief for the universally derided City Hall Plaza, his office recently issued a call for ideas — the 2010 Boston Food Truck Challenge — designed to result in an influx of mobile food options to the area. The deadline for applications is next Monday. What’s so interesting about this? The city has mandated that any vendors which get through this “competition” will need to meet the administration’s criteria for being both nutritionally reasonable and environmentally responsible. Among the contest’s stated goals: 

 – To provide high-quality food and beverage options on City Hall Plaza that support dietary and environmental health.
 – To support unique entrepreneurship and empower local business owners.
 – To make creative and sustainable use of Boston City Hall Plaza space.
 – To help create and support an environment of diverse activities and excitement in and around Boston City Hall Plaza.
 

I’m curious, more than anything, to see how the city judges the above criteria. What does Menino’s office consider high-quality? How serious is it about encouraging environmental health? How will the space be used “sustainably?” 

As healthy food options go, the downtown Boston area is woefully underserved right now. Clover in Dewey Square is a good start; the food isn’t exactly health food, but their most popular lunch sandwich (the chickpea fritter) clocks in at 455 calories and 12 grams of fat while a quarter pounder with cheese runs you 510 calories and 26 grams of fat. You might not want to eat Clover multiple times daily, but when you do eat it, you can feel good about it. If searching for healthier options elsewhere, you’d really have to walk to the Whole Foods at Charles River Plaza, or settle for a beans-and-rice mexican dish or run-of-the-mill salad. Not ideal. 

Anything could come of this competition, really. It’s difficult to say how many responses they’ve received. The Mayor’s office isn’t requiring that applicants already have a business, or even a truck for that matter, but they did ask that applicants be relatively specific with their plans. The proposal deadline is next Monday. After that, downtown Boston’s food scene will get a glimpse of a potentially brighter future for itself. Can the city score two victories — more downtown food options, and more sustainably-minded local businesses — with one program? Here’s hoping.

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4 Responses to The 2011 Boston Food Truck Challenge

  1. Karen says:

    I just moved to Boston – before I was living in Austin, TX, land of the food trucks. Tacos, banh mi, cupcakes, Indian, gyro, po’boys, bbq sandwiches – and the trucks usually relocated to the bar areas at night. So delicious! I’d be very happy if Boston moved toward that concept.

  2. Thanks for covering Boston’s food truck movement. We hope you’ll take a moment to vote for GRILLED CHEESE NATION for Boston City Hall’s Food Truck Challenge. Keep on truckin!

    Rock The Vote…Elect Grilled Cheese Nation to City Hall. Vote here ☞ http://bit.ly/GrilledCheeseNation

    Feel free to visit our food truck blog : http://foodtrucknation.tumblr.com where we cover food truck news and our movements.

  3. Pingback: Boston’s 2011 Food Truck Challenge: Vote Now « eyes wide stomach

  4. Rick Myrick says:

    If you would like to find out all the must read national news on the mobile food industry, check out http://mobile-cuisine.com

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