Every day at 9:30 a.m., Bill Zacharatos, 33, from Upper Darby, Pa., drives up Norris Street and parks his lunch truck, The Creperie, in the same spot between 12th and 13th streets. At 8:30 p.m., he pulls out and replaces his lunch truck with a large yellow “junk truck” covered with graffiti, holding his spot for the next day.
Despite a few exceptions, the streets of Philadelphia are free-game for lunch truck owners. Motor vehicle vendors must obtain several licenses in order to legally sell food to consumers, but pay no fees to actually rent parking spaces, which remain public property to all citizens.
Since lunch truck owners do not have stationary residences of business, they must reserve their spots each day. “We [vendors] usually respect one another’s
location,” Zacharatos said.
To avoid trampling on another business owner’s turf, venders generally keep the peace by sticking to their own territory and not violating another’s.
Just to be safe, some lunch truck owners often hold their spots with junk trucks, while they restock and clean their vehicles at the end of each work day. Each night Zacharatos takes his truck to his “half warehouse-half garage” in Lansdale, Pa., where he orders products, receives shipments and prepares for the following day.
Northeast Philadelphia resident Dee Amzboski of Fame’s II Pizza, located at 12th Street, sometimes parks her car to reserve her spot while she and her husband Emo Amzboski take their truck to a garage for preparation at around 10 p.m. Amzboski said she rarely deals with issues of other lunch trucks parking in her spot.
“Everybody [the lunch truck community] has been here a long time,” Amzboski said.
“We’ve been here 17 years. They’ve been here 20 [years]. We respect each other.”In order for customers to frequent their favorite lunch trucks, they must be able to depend on the trucks’ consistent locations.
Lunch trucks are also dependent on spots next to electrical outlets. When street construction is necessary, problems may arise for lunch truck owners. Zacharatos seldom runs into complications with this issue, which he attributed to “easement laws.” Public easements grant rights to a large group of individuals or to the public in general, such as the easement on public streets.
Amzboski understands that sometimes they must move their businesses in order for necessary construction.
“If there’s construction, we have to move,” Amzboski said. “We know that.”
When constructors do impose on Amzboski’s
territory, she said sometimes they are considerate of the business and do their work during the night or over holidays. Some motor vehicle vendors choose to save their spots by leaving their lunch trucks parked overnight, and restock by bringing supplies directly to the truck. “We leave it here at night,” said Jeni Bando of Mike’s Steaks. “We bring a lot of stuff here and take it away when it needs to be cleaned.”
Bando also said that he has never had any problems with any one vandalizing his truck while it is unattended at night. Zacharatos said that he wished specific parking spots were designated to vendors.
During the night, vandals spraypaint junk trucks, creating eyesores throughout campus, he said. “I would like to see Temple get rid of ‘junk trucks.’ It would beautify the campus,” Zacharatos said.However, because the university has no authority to set aside spots for vendors, the elimination of junk trucks is unlikely to happen.
Upon becoming a motor vehicle vendor, entrepreneurs must apply for a Business Privilege License and a Vendor License through the Department of Licenses and Inspections, costing $250 a piece. Vendors may operate multiple lunch trucks under one Business Privilege License. Vendors must also undergo equipment and sanitation inspections with the Health Department.
These cost $315 for new vendors and $255 for previous vendors. All fees must be renewed annually. Lunch trucks are separate entities from businesses located directly on campus sidewalks, such as The Bagel Hut or the 12th Street Outdoor Dining at Anderson Hall vendors, and negotiate with the university in terms of space occupation and rental fees. Operating a lunch truck may appear to be more complicated than owning a stationary restaurant.
Due to hassling conditions of operation, a lunch truck owner spends the majority of his day serving, and preparing to serve, the community.
Amzboski said by the time she and her husband return home around 1 a.m. each night, it seems like it’s already almost time to start a new day. “We’re lucky if we can get three hours of sleep,” she said.
Regardless of the drowsiness, Amzboski prefers the life of a lunch trucker. “We’ve had other places [restaurants] and working with the public is hard,” Amzboski said.
“We like working with the students. Everything is pleasant and well mannered. Despite the hours, it’s very nice.”
Leigh Zaleski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.