This weekend, Staff Meal food truck owners Adam Gendreau and Patrick  Gilmartin appeared on the Phantom Gourmet Radio Show to discuss their mobile eatery business and how food trucks in general stack up to brick and mortar restaurants. The interview eventually lead to this Instagram, in which Staff Meal banned the Andelman brothers of Phantom Gourmet from dining at their truck:

In an email to BostInno, Gendreau explains the background of the situation. It started in 2011, in which Phantom Gourmet’s Mike Andelman called restaurant hostesses attractive but incompetent:

The original beef we have with the Andelmans goes back a couple of years to the Grill 23 hostess incident. We’re friends with some of the hard working folks at Himmel and we decided after that nonsense, we would never again serve them food, to any capacity.

Already soured by Phantom Gourmet, the Staff Meal owners were further ignited when the owner of Al’s State Street Cafe went on the Phantom Gourmet Radio Show a few weeks ago and claimed food trucks were hurting his business. Gendreau and Gilmartin went on the show themselves to discuss the food trucks versus brick and mortar restaurants debate. Gendreau tells BostInno:

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when the Andelmans had Al from Al’s State st Cafe on their show for some talk regarding how food trucks are stealing his business.
There was some obvious disinformation being spread by a known sponsor of the show. We wanted to clear up some of these lies with facts about the food truck program in Boston.
In all fairness, they were good sports about us coming on their show and accusing them of douchebaggery.

Still irked by their radio interview, however, on Saturday, Gilmartin wrote a blog post entitled “Hey Phantom Gourmet,” outlining his further thoughts on the issue. The post reveals Gilmartin’s frustration at how food truck operators are sometimes viewed as a “hip” trend, rather than an actual business that takes an immense amount time, effort and resources to keep running and profitable.

Drawing on a similar argument he made in January in a letter to the City of Boston, Gilmartin, of Staff Meal, writes:

Brick and mortar restaurants have moneymaking opportunities far and above any food truck that more than makes up for that. Brick and mortars have the ability to stock and sell more food than a truck does, and keep that up for a longer period of time….The City also forces us to change our schedules every year, so we never can bank on a constant stream of revenue from year-to-year. We never know what the next year holds for us.

Perhaps Gilmartin’s most salient point is the passion food truck operators have for their work:

We believe in our food. We truly believe our food is the best food you can get in our price-range. We’ve built our entire business model on the idea that our food and our attitude speaks for itself and, given enough time, we would rise to the top because we offer the highest level of creativity and technique that we can. To that end, we welcome competition.

Gilmartin’s blog post has already ignited a few angry comments, backing Staff Meal and questioning the merit of Phantom Gourmet. 

In an email to BostInno, Dave Andelman, CEO of Phantom Gourmet, comments on the situation:

We gave them a chance to say anything they wished, live in studio on our show.

I think that 25 food trucks are reporting about $5 million total in sales.  Even it’s double that amount,  that’s not enough in local meals taxes to pay the costs of administering the program.

Restaurants signed long-term leases and didn’t know that these trucks would be allowed to park near them.   Every restaurant says that these trucks, when parked near their store, costs them sales.

As a Boston homeowner and the president of the Restaurant And Business Alliance, I suggest that:

The trucks should not be within 1,000 feet of a restaurant.  They should be in areas such as Boston Common and the Esplanade.  I also support the Sunday Sowa event. Since the trucks claim that they don’t takes sales from restaurants and attract their own following through social media, I assume that they will agree that this is a reasonable compromise.

While I personally believe the photo is taking the debate too far, after talking with numerous food truck operators over the past year, I can speak to the immense dedication and commitment these owners have for their business. For example, James DiSabatino of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese used to pull 23 hour days and nap in his car just to keep his mobile eatery afloat. And Ayr Muir of Clover strives to minimize his company’s carbon footprint and support local farmers. To me, those are prime examples of more than just a “cutsey” trend these guys are jumping on. It’s their passion that propels their business, not extra media attention.

Why does it have to be about competition? Brick and mortar restaurants should be working with food trucks to make the city an overall better place, both for business owners and diners.

What do you think about the mobile versus brick and mortar debate? Should food trucks cease operation near standing restaurants?

For more on this debate, check out the following: