The Possibility of Food Truck Terrorism, and Other Obstacles in the Way of More Mobile Eats in Houston

Why is Houston the only major city in the country that bans propane-equipped food trucks from operating Downtown — and one of the few that prohibits all food trucks from serving near seating areas or even setting up their own chairs for customers? A few clues appear in Katherine Shilcutt’s fascinating account of Tuesday’s city hearing, during which council members expressed a few concerns: that food-truck purveyors might be selling “other items” on the sly, or that there might not be a sufficient number of city inspectors to police the existing fleet. But, Shilcutt reports, “The questions got even stranger when Council Member Andrew Burks began hinting at the possibility of terrorists using food trucks’ propane tanks as weapons, a comment that prompted laughter from the audience.”

The possibility of overfueled taco trucks blowing up Downtown Houston, however, wasn’t the only frightening specter Burks conjured up before the mostly mobile-food-friendly crowd:


“Parking is at a premium downtown. It’s not easy. Restaurants pay these dollars and cents to keep their doors open…but these food trucks are not regulated by anyone. We’re talking about competition here — there’s no competition here. There’s danger here. If it were competition and only competition, it wouldn’t be dangerous. So what I’m saying is that I don’t like this at all. . . . I went to Washington D.C. in March this year and saw food trucks lined up and hundreds of people were lined up inside the park buying their food. And the trucks were not even the same. It looked like one raggedy truck and one nice truck and another raggedy, small truck. Is this what we want in downtown Houston? Is this the way we want our city to look? Is this the way we want to see our city at baseball games or at sporting events? Is this what we want to make our city look like?”

Burks long comment prompted a chorus of “Yes!” to ring out from the audience, at which point I was sure that the Council was going to start kicking people out. Mercifully, it was the last outburst of the day.

Photo: Ry Cayari

25 Comment

  • Funny how they all support CNG powered trolly’s to get people around downtown though… (GreenLink) Burks needs to be removed from office… his comments make me questions his ability for coherent thought.

  • Makes you wonder if any of these idiots in city council have even eaten at a food truck lately?

  • Hilarious!!! Anyone who has visited Houston gets a first impression of the billion strip clubs on I-45 — they are surely amazed at Houston’s cleanliness and high standards. Wouldn’t want a raggedy food truck to sully Houston’s stunning beauty.

  • Looks like Burks is up for re-election in an at large district.

  • Unbelievable! Do these people not visit other cities to see the way the rest of the world lives? Do they not want to provide opportunity for small businesses? Do these people not want to cultivate a downtown that expands it’s horizons and is more pedestrian friendly? Unbelievable! Those of us who work downtown are in desparate need for some good, authentic, non subway, non ninfa food options!!!!!!

  • Yuppie Food trucks are not on the same plane as roachy Taco Trucks which aren’t cleaned on a regular basis.

    And this is from first hand observation.

  • Think the food truck push back has anything to do with the Houston restaurant association?

    “Members of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association see the changes as a move toward deregulation of the food truck industry”

  • Well, I looked at an old website for Burks, requesting support for re-election……but it wasn’t for this year.

    No wonder he was so vocal, he wasn’t fearing voter retribution.

  • “hundreds of people were lined up inside the park buying their food” Oh no, we wouldn’t want to have any of that. People outside, in the park, during the daylight, in downtown? That’s just crazy talk.

  • Wow! I mean its just food trucks. I happen to like the food truck around Houston. They come in handy after the club. Most clubs/concerts I go to there right outside after its is over. I think its very convient and smart if you are tyring to make money.

    @ Allen Parkway..I agree with you. I think this does have something to do with GHRA.

  • what they’re saying about not paying the same taxes as brick n mortar makes sense, though. I think we all support a healthy Downtown economy, but they still have it rough. Even Cabo’s just closed. Getting by from goers during the week and arts and entertainment on the weekends can’t be easy. For food trucks to swoop in, take some of the easy pickings, and not have to pay the same (high) taxes the downtown restaurants pay doesn’t exactly sound fair. Think of poor El Rey. Also closed :(

    any thoughts on this?

    AKA Hoonsolo

  • “Getting by from LUNCH goers”

    got to remember to puase before you post…

  • City council should regulate to eliminate real problems, not stifle new businesses (and, yes, even the demise of less compatitive ones) through fear of novelty. Let the trucks operate freely- the city can always clamp down on them later if any of the fears expressed at the hearing materialize.

  • James – It sounds to me like the problem downtown restaurants are facing is (according to you) an unfair tax burden. As you said, they’re closing on their own even without the trucks rolling in. If the city is all that concerned about the HRA members’ well-being, perhaps they (the city) should do more to lower their operating costs from a fees and taxes standpoint. Crazy notion these days, I know!
    Politicians at every level talk a big game when it comes to their efforts at encouraging private investment and entrepreneurship, but when the rubber hits the road (quite literally with this matter), they’re using some pretty tortured logic to stifle these new, and very much in demand, vendors.

  • More people downtown, better for everyone. The restaurant assoc is being shortsighted.

  • I live close to downtown and don’t want the food trucks in downtown. Let the brick and mortar guys service downtown, invest, and pay the taxes instead of having food trucks come in and suck down their revenue potential.

    I don’t want to see downtown only busy during lunch time during the week and see it like a ghost town during the evening and weekends.

    I also don’t want to see Food Trucks screwing with traffic on our alread screwed up streets.

    For the record, I don’t own a resturant nor does anyone I know.

  • Ghost town during evening & weekends is what we have now. Also, what’s so screwed up about downtown streets? They seem to flow extremely well. Downtown is too sterile and boring. Let’s liven things up.

  • They might be worried about how trucks will look downtown but why don’t they do something about all the bums for once!!! I lived downtown complained many times to those in office about being harassed by them, seeing them bath naked, peeing in public & doing other disgusting things regular people would be in prison for doing. Why don’t they clean up downtown Houston of these people visitors see instead of planting new flowers to try to distract from the 100’s of bums. I moved to NYC & in the 6 months I’ve been here I’ve seen only 3 bums in my area & they didn’t even approach me. I also lived in the Galleria area & was constantly sick of hearing gun shots from the Shell station/Dillards parking lot & The Roxy club as well has haressed by the W. 610 bums. They are more worried about how trucks will look?? WORRY about how your city looks to tourist & people living there seeing the mess you allow to roam the streets. I miss my Houston BUT I couldn’t take the lazy people in office excuses anymore & also having to explain to friends visiting why there is a guy with his Pee pee out in mid-day urinating wasted & not able to get one photo of the reflection pool in front of city hall with out bums in it. Oh but worried food trucks look ugly?

  • I’d like to see food trucks in the greenway area

  • @ Clean up Downtown… I agree with you 100%, please move back here and run for mayor

  • Interesting list of reasons, everyone is always worried about something. Thank you for Sharing!

  • @ Clean up Downtown – I agree. Everyone I’ve had visit Houston will invariably ask what’s the deal with all the bums and people begging on the street corner. It’s a huge image problem for the city.

  • and trash!!! this city has so much trash along highways, airports, parks, everywhere. Go spend a weekend in Dallas or Austin then come back into town and you’ll notice all the tall grass on empty lots, trash everywhere, grafatti. Houston needs major cleanup and it is terrible that we pay so much in taxes so our city can plant a tree downtown to hide the homeless, or finance a losing hotel or restaurant downtown. time to stop the madness.

  • Oh please. Save the restaurants downtown. Give me a break. They are closing at a rapid pace, and the trucks are not even there yet. And taxes, most of these places rent, they don’t pay taxes, the landlord does. If these scared restaurants want to not close, maybe put out a better product, I’m talking to you nasty ‘ol Frank’s pizza, gross.

  • Market incumbents against free markets; who’da thunk?