During the past three years, the Baton Rouge food-truck scene has expanded from one food truck to 14. Driving this mobile explosion are entrepreneurs like John Snow and Jared Loftus. After travelling to various food truck hot spots across the country, they launched their award-winning food truck, Taco de Paco, in 2010.
Taco de Paco offers a base menu of tacos but also has constantly rotating specials. John cites his always-dynamic menu as one of the hardest and most important parts of running a food truck: “We’re always striving to do better in everything we do, and we always really try to be innovative with what we’re doing.”
Every city in America has hard-working entrepreneurs like John and Jared, yet few have food truck scenes growing as fast as Baton Rouge’s. Its secret sauce? Good food truck laws, or conversely, a lack of bad ones. Baton Rouge doesn’t have industry-killing protectionist laws like “proximity bans” and area bans that are intended to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from competition. Baton Rouge’s food truck laws start and end where they’re supposed to, only addressing legitimate health and safety issues.
The absence of overly restrictive, anti-competitive food-truck laws benefits the citizens of Baton Rouge by providing them a variety of food trucks that offer affordable, delicious, and fresh food. It also allows young chefs who don’t have the capital to open a restaurant a cheaper way to get into the industry. Brick-and-mortar businesses also benefit. Food trucks increase foot traffic, which invariably has positive spillover effects on other businesses. In fact, the Institute for Justice’s Seven Myths and Realities about Food Tucks points out that in many cities, food trucks give a boost to the restaurant industry.
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Shortly after John and Jared started Taco de Paco, some brick-and-mortar restaurants started lobbying to increase the regulation of food trucks, which would include a proximity ban. Jared responded by welcoming one possible new regulation—a requirement that trucks post health inspection grades—but warned that, “We [as a city] give lip service to these cool new things, and then we want to regulate them…We’ve got to be very conscious of not over-regulating.”
Baton Rouge serves as an example to the rest of the country, displaying what can happen when a city unleashes their food truck scene. With the help of the Institute for Justice, neighboring New Orleans reformed its food truck laws in 2013; and the Times-Picayune reports that local scene is already thriving.
Other cities like York, Pa., Cranston, R.I., and Rochester, N.Y., need to get rid of protectionist and burdensome food truck regulations so they, too, can enjoy the benefits that Baton Rouge is enjoying. And once they get rid of those regulations, entrepreneurs like John and Jared will take care of the rest.
— Yitzy Muller
Yitzy Muller is a Maffucci Fellow at the Institute for Justice