Where Have All The Food Trucks Gone?

Fast food has become just as mobile as hungry drivers with the arrival of food trucks.

However, the number of visible food trucks around Tallahassee has steadily declined this past year.

Larraine Wright, a senior business administration student from Tampa, said she was a patron to multiple food trucks before they began to disappear.

“I would look for new trucks to try back then,” Wright said in reference to the 2011-2012 school year. “I don’t know why there aren’t as much around here anymore. I was thinking it had something to do with crazy fees they probably have to pay.”

According to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, there are more than 3,200 licensed mobile food vendors statewide.

Mo Robinson, owner of Mo Betta’ Barbeque, said trucks likes his are very beneficial to the state.

“Last year they sent a letter that said it’s the No. 1 business in the state,” Robinson said. “Tax-wise, they were making more from these food trucks than normal businesses.”

This year, many trucks have either relocated for better business or stopped running altogether. High gas prices earlier this year forced food truck owners to budget accordingly or face a financial nightmare. Most trucks need about $50 worth of diesel gas every other day, in addition to food and operation costs. Increasing expenses means some owners have tough decisions to make.

Ankh Williams said he helped build Rasta Nice Foods, one of Tallahassee’s first food trucks. He said he is a pioneer of the city’s mobile food scene, and he has watched it devolve to its current state.

“Back then, they would find a lot and park up somewhere, and the city would give you rules and regulations and certain things you could and couldn’t do,” Williams said. “It started as a community thing. People got together and supported the trucks, but as time went on, businesses stalled.”

Williams said if the food trucks do not regain the support of the community, they will eventually fade out.

According to the Tallahassee Food Truck Association, there are more than 80 registered food trucks in the city, most of which go unseen. There are also unlicensed trucks in operation throughout the city.

Rebecca Kelly, president of TFTA and operator of Street Chefs, said her main concern is safety.

“We are against unlicensed operators because we want to make sure that all food that is served is safe and the people serving it know how to handle food properly,” Kelly said.

Kelly said the weather and student population play a role in Tallahassee’s food truck community.

“We actually operate more in the spring and fall and less in the winter and summer when the weather is a greater factor and when student populations dip,” Kelly said.

Another reason food truck numbers are down is because of high gas prices.

According to the American Automobile Association, the average price of diesel was $4.08 per gallon in 2012. This year, the average is $3.90 per gallon. Though gas prices have been on a steady decline since the beginning of September, diesel fuel prices are still more than many mobile food owners can afford.

Kelly said she is one of a few truck operators who do not have to spend as much on gas as many of her colleagues do.

“I am very lucky that I don’t have to run my generator for most of my events,” Kelly said. “I can plug my truck into a normal outlet with little-to-no problems, but there are trucks that have to run generators all the time, and I can only imagine that $3.80-plus a gallon is really hurting them.”