In a restaurant landscape that is constantly being transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, the San Francisco dining scene could soon look like it did in the 2010s at the height of the Bay Area’s food truck madness.
The potential postponement is due to a concerted effort by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Tony Marcell, business associate of celebrity chef Tyler Florence at the Wayfare Tavern restaurant in San Francisco; and members of the city’s Chamber of Commerce as the group pushes for local laws that would make it easier for restaurants to open food trucks during the pandemic.
According to Marie Trimble Holvick, a board member for the restaurant association, the process of getting a restaurant to open a food truck now takes about six months. Holvick said the process should be much shorter in order to keep the growing number of small restaurants in dire need of income open.
“That could also help the city. Right now, restaurants want to get people back to work, ”she said. “I also think we need to prepare for a new way of life. The idea that we are packed into the cute 20 seat restaurant won’t happen for a while. “
Holvick also said when it comes to the health and safety practices required to open a food truck, restaurant owners are ahead of the curve because they are familiar with the strict licensing process and training related to food safety. Group members also talk about how to ensure food truck workers have enough space to collaborate while following social distancing protocols.
The possible legislation is in the early stages, but is already supported by Rodney Fong, President of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
“If they can’t come to eat, bring the food to them, the current need seems to be,” Fong said via email.
Wayfare Tavern’s Tony Marcell recently got the conversation going when his restaurant opened its first truck a few weeks ago. It gained a following in cities like San Francisco and Orinda, but Marcell said San Francisco was quick to order it to shut it down due to a variety of technical issues. Most important of them was the fact that Wayfare Tavern’s food truck was not under the company’s DBA license as the company rented it from a San Jose restaurant. The truck, which was profitable for a short time, is no longer in use.
“It was magic and hope and all these beautiful things in the beginning,” he said. “We followed the threads of what people needed. We shot every week and it’s almost like opening a new restaurant every time we have to reinvent ourselves. For those communities where young families don’t want to go out, we knew it could be a good thing. “
Opening a food truck in the city was a tedious process long before COVID-19. According to the San Francisco Business Portal, a food truck must have at least 11 permits to operate in the city, including a mobile food facility permit and a weighing and measuring equipment permit. San Francisco food trucks are also not allowed to park within a 75-foot radius of a stationary restaurant. This rule should remain part of any new food truck legislation, according to Holvick and Marcell.
A recent report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce identified San Francisco as one of the toughest cities in the country to open a food truck. The report surveyed 20 major cities about the difficulties food truck operators face in obtaining permits and licenses.
Since the recent shelter-in-place order in the Bay Area, which was recently extended to the end of May, restaurants in San Francisco can only offer take-out and delivery services. The industry has seen a number of mass layoffs and closings as profits have all but disappeared. Even if restaurants are finally allowed to reopen their dining rooms, they may have to do so while cutting their capacity in half, according to Governor Gavin Newsom.
The idea of a food truck follows industry leaders who recently asked the city to allow restaurants to use parking lots, alleys and public spaces as dining rooms. This move could boost business in restaurants in the coming months, increasing profits.
Similarly, Mayor London Breed announced in April a temporary 15% cap on commissions levied by app makers like Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash, Caviar and Postmates. These companies typically charge commissions between 10% and 30% of an order, and chefs said the cost knocked the industry down. The cap will remain in effect until restaurants can reopen for dinner.
All efforts underscore the financial plight many restaurants are facing during the pandemic.
“The food truck for us, although it didn’t last long, was a breath of fresh air,” said Marcell. “If the city means what it means to help small restaurants, it seems like a piece of cake to make opening a food truck easy.”
Justin Phillips is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @JustMrPhillips