Early next year, Guerilla Tacos, one of Los Angeles’s hottest food trucks, is slated to become one of its hottest restaurants. But Wes Avila, Guerilla Tacos chef and owner, almost never got his modern success story off the ground due to the city’s ban on street vending.
According to NPR’s “The Salt”:
Five years ago, Avila was working as a sous chef at a pop up restaurant called Le Comptoir. It was only open four days a week, and Avila says he wasn’t making enough money to cover his rent. So he bought a simple food cart [and] used his last $167 on ingredients.
And then Avila got to work. But Los Angeles, despite being a food-truck mecca, until recently prohibited food carts. Getting caught setting up shop was punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail. In other words, Los Angeles branded Avila a criminal for selling delicious food to willing customers.
Talking to The Salt, Avila described his outlaw chef status,
“We were kind of bending the law, not necessarily breaking the law. We had to move around so we wouldn’t get caught — you know, like guerrilla warfare,” Avila says. “That’s why we had that name, because we’d be in random alleys, random streets, being kind of renegade like that.”
Despite being shut down by police twice, Avila was able to scrape together enough money to lease a food truck. Once on the road, Guerilla Taco became a smashing success, and now Avila has his own cookbook and will be opening his brick-and-mortar restaurant early next year.
Unfortunately, thousands of other Los Angeles street vendors shared Avila’s struggles with the city’s street vending ban. In fact, it wasn’t until February 2017 when the Los Angeles City Council voted to decriminalize street vending. Now selling a taco or bacon-wrapped hot dog from a cart will result in only a fine. And the City Council is continuing to integrate street vendors into the Los Angeles community, including a current proposal to decriminalize operating a food cart in city parks.
These measures will help bring LA street vendors out of the shadows and recognize their sizable contributions. According to the Institute for Justice report Upwardly Mobile, for instance, vendors in New York City supported nearly 18,000 jobs, contributed over $190 million in wages and paid $71.2 million in local, state and federal taxes in 2012 alone. But more must be done. Decriminalization is a half measure for those street vendors who are struggling to make a living. The City Council should fully legalize street vending so as to make it a bit easier for the next Wes Avila to contribute to their community and live their version of the American Dream.