Ganging up on food trucks

March 26, 2013

Indictments for alleged shakedowns suggest a vulnerability of mobile chefs.

Food truck operators are innovative enough to cope with challenges such as city ordinances that restrict parking in prime areas, and competitive trucks from restaurants aiming to expand their customer base.

Here’s another that could be a deal-breaker for some:  gang members shaking them down for protection money.  According to a Los Angeles Times report, at least 20 reputed members of MS-13 were indicted and held on bail ranging from $2 million to $3 million+.  Victims of the alleged shakedown weren’t the trendy operators, but were truckers serving workers at construction sites, law enforcement sources told the paper.  The alleged take:  $30 to $50 per week per truck, plus free food.

Gangs are active in many cities, and could pose similar threats elsewhere to all kinds of food truck entrepreneurs.  The Lempert Report thinks it is shameful that outside influences like this could possibly diminish the commitment of operators to stay in the business, and hurt prospects of a phenomenon that customers love and is bringing inventiveness to the food world.

How might this situation evolve in a positive way?  Perhaps food truck operators could band together to hire security and discourage gang pressure.  United, and with police involvement, they may succeed in neutralizing the gang members.

If undercover police were to run some food trucks, would food quality decline?  If word got out that gang members were stalking food trucks, would customers stay away in order to feel safe?  Could this provide the impetus for supermarkets to recruit food truck operators to head up their prepared foods efforts—and build store trips and performance with the branding possibilities, menu creativity and cuisine diversity they’d bring?

What happens in the courts will dictate much of what’s ahead—but supermarkets should watch this closely to see if some good could come from a difficult situation.