Hurdles stand in way of more food trucks in Lake Tahoe
July 13, 2017
It's no secret that food trucks are a craze sweeping the country — but not one that is likely to take off in Lake Tahoe anytime soon.
Two weeks ago, On Course Events announced that it was canceling the inaugural Tahoe Truck Stop Food Truck Weekend, citing high costs and limited sponsor support. The three-day event, set for July 14 – 16, was going to include eight food trucks and a performance from Afrolicious at the American Legion in South Lake Tahoe.
"It ended up not being financially feasible to bring in all the infrastructure needed to sustain food trucks in one place for three days," explained Leslie Schultz, sales and promotions director for On Course Events.
"Like bringing in a water pump truck from out of town and all the infrastructure that food trucks need that we don't have because it's not a common thing and not part of our culture yet."
Most of the food trucks were coming up from the Bay Area and Reno.
"I had an authentic Mexican food truck coming up from Los Angeles. I'm still mourning those homemade tortas," Schultz said.
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So where are all the locally owned and operated food trucks? On the South Shore there is only one.
"When I first moved here 3.5 years ago there were two food trucks … and since then the catering truck has left and the food truck sold because they couldn't get a full-time operating license with the city," said Brian Main, who owns Pretty Odd Wieners food truck with his wife Jill out in Meyers.
Three years ago, the city of South Lake Tahoe wrote an ordinance to regulate food trucks. The new code doesn't allow for a long-term operating license for parking and selling food around the city, even on private property. Instead, anyone who wants to sell food from a truck must apply for a temporary special use permit.
"You can't build a business with a special use permit," said Brian Main, which is why he set up his gourmet hot dog stand out in El Dorado County where he could sell full time from the parking lot of Roadrunner Gas Station.
The Mains upgraded their stand this year to a new mobile trailer where they are selling creative concoctions like a hot dog piled with homemade mac and cheese, topped with bacon, and drizzled with honey.
"We didn't know anything about Meyers when we moved here [from Philadelphia], but we knew it was the only area where we could legally sell from a hot dog cart because the city wouldn't allow it," Brian Main said. "So we came out here and sold from the corner of a parking lot and the locals came out in full support."
It's that constant support from local customers — and a convenient location to catch tourists coming to and from the South Shore on U.S. 50 — that he credits with Pretty Odd Wieners' success.
But, according to one former food truck operator, it's not just South Lake Tahoe that is not food-truck friendly — it's the whole basin.
After 20 years in professional kitchens, in 2010 chef Larry Abney launched an Indian-fusion food truck in Truckee called Red Truck. Two years later, he decided to sideline the truck except for catering gigs, and open a brick and mortar store. There were just too many complications that came with operating a food truck, he said.
"Any county that you go into in Tahoe has different permitting so that is one of the hurdles, and then also the big hurdle is the amount of people in Tahoe consistently. That's also a huge issue," Abney said. "I think a lot of the people down in Reno and in San Francisco, because there is so much more going on, I think people can make it and do OK, but it's a hard job."
Winters also pose a problem for operating a food truck in the Sierras, said Abney, who worked as a private chef when he was forced to close up shop for snow and cold temperatures.
"That's the only way we survived," said Abney, who still considers the venture a success given that it lead him to his new (non-mobile) restaurant.
"I wouldn't go buy a truck to park on the street again, that's for sure," Abney said. "It's nice to see the attitude toward the food truck changing, but it still has its hurdles, too."
On Course Events, however, is not giving up on its dream to bring Tahoe Truck Stop Food Truck Weekend to the South Shore.
"In the beginning it can be challenging to find that support for a new idea that people aren't sure of," said Schultz, adding that they are already working on securing more sponsors to get the event off the ground next year.