When Dave Pennachietti decided to open high-end Italian food truck Lil' Dave's in 2009, it took him nine months to cut through the municipal red tape. "It was just crazy, what you had to go through with L&I and the Health Department," he said.
Street cuisine has come a long way from roach coach hot dogs slung on city corners and, by all indications, the gourmet-on-wheels trend shows no signs of slowing down. But many vendors say that Philadelphia's legislature has not kept up with the rapid revolution.
"The problem with food trucks is that they put us under the same umbrella as restaurants. They don't see that we are a different industry," Pennachietti said. The newly formed trade group Philadelphia Mobile Food Association is seeking to change that.
"I was in the process of trying to start a food truck and started running into issues, whether legislative or zoning," PMFA co-founder Andrew Gerson said. "I saw similar ideas in other cities and thought it might be a good idea to bring something like this to Philadelphia."
The trade association, active through social media since December, already serves as an educational network for participants learning how to navigate the bureaucratic and practical aspects of the business. But at a meeting in University City tomorrow, PMFA will formalize, officially rolling out a three-level membership structure.
The group, which is in the process of applying for nonprofit status with the help of the Penn Legal Clinic, will forge a communal voice for proprietors of the estimated 500-plus food trucks and carts around the city.
"It's a community approach," Patrick O'Rourke, who manages PMFA's online presence. "It's about not being all alone and sharing what you've learned purely for the benefit of your peers."
What we'll get
Here's what some of the expected benefits will be for food trucks and the patrons who love them:
The membership levels will consist of truckers who actively own and operate a mobile food unit, prospects who are interested in joining the business but aren't sure where to start and associates who provide related services like truck makers, repair people and food safety educators.
There are definitely more trucks in store for the Philadelphia area, according to Pennachietti, who does volunteer consulting work. They include a South Philly dessert bus, a Cuban-Mexican fusion truck, one serving Thai-Korean barbecue and a vendor featuring Native American cuisine.
Legislative changes will include advocating for amendments to the prohibited streets list and allowing trucks in more areas of Center City.