Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Let the (Food Truck) Revolution Commence!

With ArtPrize just a single day away, the city is stirring. Art is popping up left and right, kind of like weeds--if weeds were expressive, aesthetic, and created by human beings. Grand Rapids is in a liminal period, biding its time; it's in a cocoon and the city is ready to break through, it's ready to blow the minds of Michiganders, Americans, and citizens of the world alike.

But even its own citizens may be surprised to hear a decision that was recently passed down by the city. Remember that huge conflict surrounding food trucks that happened last year? I do. It was the brick-and-mortar restaurants versus the food truck vendors, with every hungry Grand Rapidian caught in-between, salivating over what could be. Many of us had eaten from the Silver Spork (RIP) or What the Truck outside of the Fulton Street Farmers Market at that point (and have since), but this just wasn't enough for vendors and patrons--both parties wanted to see food trucks in spots scattered around our ever-coveted downtown.

Upon hearing this, some restaurant owners began shaking in their boots--they were scared that a quick-and-dirty option like ye olde food truck would eat into brick-and-mortar profits. And they're probably right: If I'm in a hurry and I can get something fast--and it's good--that's what I'm going to do, almost every time. This means that the business-types who work downtown would probably head to a food truck instead of sitting down at Cinco de Mayo or Bull's Head Tavern, at Donk's (formerly Taco Boy) or Tre Cugini. By the end of the Great Food Truck Conflict of 2012, it was the frightened restaurateurs who had won, not the food truckers, despite the single concession given by the city: Food trucks could now set-up shop on private property. On paper, this may have seemed like a victory for food trucks, but I think it was a ruling that made citizens think that food trucks were allowed. In reality, it was a decision that was in-line with the worried restaurant owners. Few food trucks took advantage of this change, proving that it perpetuated the status quo.

Could the Silver Spork still be alive if the city made this
call sooner? | Photo courtesy of the Silver Spork
Flash forward to about a week ago: That was when the city decided that it will allow two food trucks outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum for 200 days per year. This means that some of the aforementioned businesses really will have something to worry about. Instead of complaining about it and trying to fight the ruling, the efforts of fearful owners should be used toward innovation--revamping their menu, opening up new options, and exploring unknown territories to catch the eyes, ears, and taste buds of those seeking a place to fend off hunger in the future.  They might take a cue from GR breweries and reduce restaurant waste or go organic.  An article from WZZM 13 said that the GRAM will be allowed to begin its life as a food truck station after ArtPrize is over, since the trucks are allowed to be around during special events like one of the world's largest art competitions. I for one can't wait for this, since it could easily make our already-great food scene into something even better.