Where the food trucks are. And aren't. And why.

Wandering Dago in Schenectady

The Wandering Dago in Schenectady last fall.

Last week's announcement that the Food Trucks of NY Festival -- originally planned for Albany's Washington Park -- was instead headed for Troy, prompted people to ask: What happened?

So we looked into it. And as we found out along the way, part of the challenge of operating a food truck in the Capital Region is the area's many municipalities -- and their many different rules.

Here's a look at where you're more likely to find -- and not find -- food trucks around the area, and why.

The Capital Region food truck quandary

One of the main problems facing food truck operators in the area is straightforward, even if the solution is not: the Capital Region core includes four counties, and those counties contain a bunch of different cities, towns, and villages. And each of those municipalities has its own rules for food trucks.

Just keeping up with all those different sets of rules can be a tough job, says Tim Taney. He and his wife, Brooke, own the Slidin' Dirty food truck, which often operates in Troy, and on the ESP in Albany during the summer. "If you're in Buffalo or Raleigh [North Carolina]," Taney says, "you don't have to go outside the county or city -- there's plenty of business right there. Here you're bouncing from county to county and every time you cross a city line you have a new set of rules and fee structures. There are different rules for how far you have to be from brick and mortar restaurants. You have to learn a bunch of city codes. Also, every county has its own health department that we need to pay."

Slidin Dirty Tim and Brooke Taney
Slidin' Dirty's Tim and Brooke Taney last June

Further complicating the situation: some of the food truck laws were written decades ago, so many of the people working in local government may not be sure how and why the laws came about, which can make interpreting them difficult.

The best guess on the part of most people we spoke with in Albany, Schenectady and Troy city governments is that many of the laws regulating where food trucks can operate were put into place to protect the interests of brick-and-mortar restaurants. As a result, many of the laws include requirements that trucks operate at minimum distances from restaurants.

Slidin' Dirty's Tim Taney says he understands that brick-and-mortar restaurants pay property taxes, but points out that the food truck operators also pay municipalities in other ways. "We are licensed by Albany, Saratoga and Rensselaer county health departments. We have to get the truck re-inspected and we pay each of the municipalities vendor licenses. We pay OGS down at Empire State Plaza."

Danika Atkins, a marketing consultant for Slidin' Dirty, says she wishes laws would change to accommodate a food truck culture. She says food trucks are the kind of thing that can help attract talent to the region from bigger cities. "It's giving them a culture they like," says Atkins. "There's a big food truck culture in cities like Seattle and New York. These are gourmet food trucks, not roach coach places that people are afraid of. A lot of these places do want to have a brick and mortar restaurant someday, but they can't afford it yet, and this is their way of breaking into the market."

Albany

Albany has way more food trucks than other local cities -- but for the most part, they're all clustered around West Capitol Park. In fact, the city only allows food trucks to operate on streets surrounding the Capitol. (There are also allowances for a hot dog cart outside the DMV on Pearl Street and one in Lincoln Park.)

And if a food truck wants to get in at the Capitol? Assistant city clerk Regina Goodbee says the trucks currently in the West Capitol Park have the right of first refusal on their spots, so unless one of them decides to not reapply for a permit, there's no room for new trucks.

This summer you may find Slidin' Dirty, The Wandering Dago and a handful of other trucks out on the Empire State Plaza. That's possible because the ESP is state property, not city property, so again, the rules are different. Same goes for the Harriman State Office Campus in uptown Albany, where Slidin' Dirty can sometimes be found at lunchtime.

The city of Albany also has the highest fee among the four main cities for a food truck vendor permit: $2,170 per year. In Troy it's $500 a year, in Saratoga $250 a year and in Schenectady it's $125 a year.

Andrea Loguidice from The Wandering Dago, which operates primarily in Schenectady, says they'd like to branch out into Albany a little more, but even the festivals have been tough for them to break into. "We were turned down for the Tulip Festival," she says, "and the city doesn't allow food trucks at events like Alive at Five."

Schenectady

wandering dago

In Schenectady the $125 a year vendor fee allows food trucks to operate pretty much anywhere in the city they want, as long as they stay 250 feet away from a brick-and-mortar restaurant. That includes residential areas of the city, where vendors have been known to set up at events and neighborhood garage sales, according to the city clerk's office.

Troy

Troy recently created a zone for food trucks on Front Street, adjacent to the riverfront, with four spots for food trucks. So far two spaces have been claimed by Slidin' Dirty and Wandering Dago.

There's a bit of a discrepancy over the policy in Troy, though. According to the city, food trucks need a $500 vendors license and approval from the city to operate at those designated spots. Troy city spokesperson Jess Sibley says once a truck has that approval, the vendor can apply in writing for an additional spot in one of the city parks. Sibley says approval for spaces in the parks is then decided on a case-by-case basis. Other than that, she says, food trucks can not vend from any city street in Troy.

But in recent years Troy has been a little more lenient with food trucks, allowing them to operate in other parts of the city -- like 15th Street near RPI -- as long as they were legally parked and at least 250 feet from a brick-and-mortar business. After a meeting with mayor Lou Rosamila, Tim Taney from Slidin' Dirty said he was under the impression that this was still the case. In fact, he says, Slidin' Dirty has been operating on 15th Street at RPI for the last couple of semesters. If the rules have changed to forbid that, Taney says, it could influence Slidin' Dirty's decision to stay in Troy. He's hoping a compromise can be worked out in a meeting with the city slated for next week.

Sibley says the Collar City understands that there is an increased interest in food trucks, and that they're going to assess that level of interest this year before deciding whether, and how, to expand the areas where the trucks can operate.

Saratoga

A local vending license in Saratoga is $250 for a year and allows trucks to go anywhere in the city -- except the downtown district, which roughly a two-block radius around Broadway. Sort of. Trucks can't park on city property, which includes city streets and city parking lots. They can temporarily stop to make a sale and then keep going, which might be good for ice cream trucks -- but it's harder when you're making lunch to order.

There are some food trucks in Saratoga, like EatGoodFood, that operate on private property.

The NY Food Truck Festival

The food truck festival -- and how it ended up in Troy -- is another story. One of the festival organizers -- Garth Ellms of Townsquare Lifestyle Events -- says they'd planned about seven events in Saratoga County, but noticed a lot of people from Albany were attending. So they turned their attention south, and figured Washington Park would be the perfect place for a festival.

"We were hoping for a lot of foot traffic with this. The park gets a lot of people anyway, just enjoying the day."

But Townsquare got a letter from the city saying the park was oversaturated with events, and suggested other locations in Albany.

Patrick Jordan, an attorney for the city, says most festivals that apply to be in Washington Park are turned down these days. He says Townsquare's application indicated they'd be bringing 1,500 people into the park and included a request for an alcohol permit. "We get complaints on a weekly basis from the Washington Park Conservancy, and in general, that the park is overused now for festivals."

Ellms says the city suggested the Corning Preserve as an alternate location, but Townsquare was worried it wouldn't have enough foot traffic for the festival. He says being turned down for the park hasn't discouraged him and he still hopes to work on other events with the city.

So how did Troy get into the mix? When Troy officials caught wind of the food truck festival idea, they tracked Ellms down through a post on Table Hopping. "They've been great," says Ellms of the Collar City. "They get what it takes to drive people to town. Albany has great bars and restaurants, but you need to tease people to downtown to see what's there."

Earlier on AOA:
+ Slidin' Dirty
+ The Wandering Dago food truck

Comments

"We were turned down for the Tulip Festival," she says, "and the city doesn't allow food trucks at events like Alive at Five."

makes perfect sense. GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!

(sorry, words can't accurately capturing my angry sputtering over the city of Albany's approach to food trucks.)

Why are there so many laws to discourage interesting businesses in Albany?

If only the festival was held at the Capital in the middle of a workday so only the state workers could attend, then Albany would have given a sh*t!

Fine....I will spend my money in Troy, then.

@karen, while I don't agree with it, I can see owners of old school brick and mortar restaurants taking issue with food trucks. They've got a much bigger upfront investment, have stricter guidelines they have to adhere to, etc. while competing for some of the same customers. And these brick and mortar restaurants pay more taxes, and generate more money for the city through various liquor licenses and entertainment fees, all year round, not just a few months out of the year.

I got about half way through this article before I felt my dreams of owning & operating a bike/taco stand crumble. Thank you Albany. One more reason to move to Austin.

I know that RPI gave Thunder Mountain Curry a ration of s**t about setting up in front of the college union a few years back (on 15th), trying to prevent them from vending on the sidewalk (TMC didn't even have a truck, but rather a cart of sorts). Eventually, the school relented because all the needed permits were on file. After long lines at the cart became an ongoing dent in Sodexho's business (RPI's food vendor), they were eventually invited into the union to set up their own stall, where they reside even today.

Slidin' Dirty has been out there as well, and as long as they have the necessary permits, it seems like they should be permitted to stay, despite RPI's grumblings to the contrary. Bottom line Slidin': don't let RPI push you around.

Isn't there a food truck festival every day in Capital Park?

Thanks for the support R! We live our RPI peeps! The students and faculty are great and we won't go down without fighting the good fight!

Albany's stance on food trucks annoys me to no end - If a complete change in laws is out of the question, here is my suggestion to make it better with a pretty reasonable change:

In the summer, daytime, when there are no major events in Washington Park which require their own vending permits, use the space in front or nearby the Lake House for food trucks. It's at least 500ft from any restaurant. It has a ridiculous amount of nearby parking. It has seating for tons of people in the amphitheater. It has power, garbage containers, and potentially bathrooms if the Lake House is open(?). And to my knowledge, the space is almost never used during the day except for major park events. I know that events and plays are held at the Lake House in the evening, and during the Park Playhouse season much of the area directly in front of the stage is used, but I'm sure that there is space in the surrounding lot.

Troy has already added four spots for food trucks to the redesigned Riverfront Park. There is a toooooon of foot traffic within and around Washington Park during the spring/summer/fall, even on weekends without major park events. It doesn't have to be a festival, or have a liquor license - even if this was implemented for a trial period of a couple weekends in the summer it would be such an improvement to the park and neighborhood. Having the trucks there on (seemingly) random weekends isn't even that big of a problem since new food truck owners are so connected to their customers through social media. They would get the word out.

If it was scheduled right - not to interfere with other major events held within the park - I see no absolutely no downside.

There should be more of a food truck presence on Madison Ave. by the State Museum. There is currently no food service or cafe for Museum visitors or staff in the Cultural Education Center. There used to be a Subway on the 4th floor (pathetic to those of us who remember the glory days in the early 1990s when Yono's had a small cafe in the CEC), but that closed more than a year ago. I always thought there was a missed opportunity to promote New York State foods in a cafe connected to the New York State Museum.

Do any of the currently operating food trucks have Twitter handles so we can get advance notice of when / where they are open?

I found the answer to my twitter question here: http://foodtruckfestivalsofny.com/lineup/

This is ridiculous. I hope this is not related to Holiday Lights that leads to the perception that the park is overused. Because once again, holiday lights is mostly for those who don't live in the city. Besides that, we have Tulip Fest, Park Playhouse, The Healthy Food Co-op (Awesome), and....I have the utmost respect for the Conservancy, they protect a gem in our city. But I'm sure this could have been worked out.

If I was a business, I would be upset if food trucks were there every day as well. But for a festival, or from time to time? If anything, it will generate more business for Lark/Madison because people will be in the area. Events like this showcase downtown and urban life. Yet, our city, charges the most, establishes the most convoluted bureaucracy, and actually disincentives investment. People want things to do. We can invest in infrastructure, crosswalks, anything, but nothing to do, and it's all useless.

Also, there needs to an effort for regional cooperation. Capital Region cities would be a lot better off if they collaborated rather than competed. Get together, and devise one code for food trucks. And while you're at it, take a crack at the waterfront, transportation, etc. It's about making investment easy. Another big mistake. Time for a change in Albany.

Great piece. One would have to ask why someone in charge of marketing for a Food Truck would even mention the term "roach coach" (as a perjorative) because it made my mind go to the bad place.

Isn't there something we, as residents, can do about these kinds of laws? Why do we have to just put up with it?

Love Slidin Dirty they make some of the best lunches available in Troy. Seriously, try anything they make.

I'm looking forward to the Wandering Dago coming to Troy as well!

Just to clarify- the food trucks in Albany's Capitol Park are there from April to November, more than just a few months.
Also- food is coming back to the CEC, where the State Museum, State Archives and State Library reside. There was a food vendor after the departure of Subway, but the CEC is indeed currently foodless.
A search is underway for a new food vendor. Hopefully it will be a local business, rather than a large chain.

Food trucks make life a little more interesting and enjoyable.

There are many laws on the books that conspire to make Albany a much less interesting city than it could be with its educated and diverse population.

It is, however, the duty of citizens to take the necessary steps to see the type of the change they want from the city and county.

Albany could easily reclaim the title of most interesting and dynamic city in upstate NY if its citizens take the necessary civic action such as circulating petitions, organizing meetings, and writing letters to council members. The food truck issue is just one of many.

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.

Search

Recently on All Over Albany

Debbie's Kitchen has returned

Important lunch news update: Debbie's Kitchen re-opened Monday. (We've included a menu and a few pics.) Debbie Klauber announced back in August that she was... (more)

Metroplex at 20

This year is the 20th anniversary of the formation of Metroplex, the economic development authority that's backed by Schenectady County sales tax revenue -- some... (more)

Drawing: Tickets for Troy Prom -- a prom for adults -- at Takk House

Takk House is again hosting Troy Prom this November 24. It is "a grown-up themed dance party for anyone who might need to replace or... (more)

There's another public meeting coming up to talk about ideas for 1 Monument Square

The fifth major attempt to redevelop the 1 Monument Square site in the heart of downtown Troy takes another step November 5 with a public... (more)

Morning Blend

Review of man's 2017 death in Schenectady police custody The state Attorney General's office reported Friday that a grand jury had declined to hand up... (more)

Recent Comments

I ride every day to work, and also after work for exercise. I love the concept of being a person who happens to ride a bike. There's a level of bike riding, with the high performance gear and sleek clothing, that makes riding seem like its not for everyone. I try to avoid markers like that, and always wear regular clothing/shoes/backpack with dumpy-looking bike. One concession is bike gloves.

Drawing: Tickets for Troy Prom -- a prom for adults -- at Takk House

...has 10 comments, most recently from mike

There's another public meeting coming up to talk about ideas for 1 Monument Square

...has 4 comments, most recently from ace

A year later I'm still using a bike to get around town -- here are a few thoughts about how that's worked out

...has 14 comments, most recently from EdB

Gawking at the new Schenectady train station

...has 5 comments, most recently from Herbert

A collection of castle day trips

...has 1 comment, most recently from Jsc