For the past two years, Peter Cimino has been selling gourmet tacos in business parks in Amherst, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo. In his bright lime green truck, creative entrées like chimichurri chicken and tomatillo pork sizzle. His Lloyd Taco Truck was personally invited by the owner of the Amherst Commerce Park to enliven the area and Pete was operating entirely on private property. But on Monday, Amherst shut his business down. A police officer even threatened to tow away Pete’s taco truck, for not having a permit.
There’s just one problem: Amherst doesn’t have a food truck permit yet.
The town is currently in the process of creating a new food truck ordinance, but it won’t even be considered until November. Instead, Amherst wants Pete to comply with a 20-year ordinance that was written for peddlers, door-to-door salesmen, and junk dealers, not street food. For $100, these street vendors get a permission slip from the government to sell in one location for 90 days. But as Pete points out, his truck usually visits five or six towns, so he could be forced to pay at least $500 in fees, every three months: “if we can’t be mobile, then we might as well just shut down.” What a great way to encourage entrepreneurs.
In an interview with the Buffalo News, Pete was outraged: “The way we’ve been treated, I can’t say it’s anything other than being bullied.” In addition, he actively tried to comply with all the relevant paperwork before he started selling. He called town officials to see if any permits were needed and was informed he didn’t need any. Sadly, this is the third time in less than a month that a food truck has been forced to stop vending in Amherst without a permit.
Unsurprisingly, there’s also protectionism at work here. According to the Buffalo News:
“[Police Chief John] Askey also said he was embarrassed to learn that the “anonymous complaint” lodged with the Building Department against the Lloyd Taco Truck on Monday came from one of his own officers, who has relatives in the restaurant business and called in the complaint as a private citizen.”
However, the Amherst Chamber of Commerce was quick to distance itself from the food truck crackdown, tweeting:
“ACC supports all biz, whether big, small, brick & mortar or mobile. We operate as a separate entity from the Town of Amherst.”
Pete and his Lloyd Taco truck were previously featured in an Institute for Justice video about street food vending in Buffalo. Thanks in part to IJ’s efforts there at the grassroots, the city council rejected a proposal supported by brick-and-mortars to limit food trucks to certain zones, and instead passed an ordinance favored by the food trucks that opened up more of the city to their innovative business model.