Beginning of the Vendor Backlash: My Case Against the La Cense Burger Truck
The overhyped by the press, but underwhelming from a food standpoint, La Cense Burger Truck announced on Twitter yesterday that they’d be hibernating until Spring. Winter is traditionally a slower time for street food sales, but for most vendors it’s still worth coming to work (as long as you don’t sell ice cream.) So why is La Cense closing up shop? Who knows for sure, but I say good riddance. I know it’s mean, but I feel compelled to be against any street vendor that simply seems to be using their truck for marketing purposes. After the initial lines, the demand for La Cense seemed to die off pretty quickly. But they can afford to stay on the street whether they make money or not because they’re owned by a large mail-order company, who in my estimation is just using the truck to promote their line of gourmet beef. And, sadly, it’s worked. Despite the mixed reviews by the public, they’ve been included in tons of street vendor trend pieces.
So why does this bother me so much?
There are a limited number of street vending permits available in New York City, so for every La Cense Burger Truck on the street that’s one less vendor who actually cares about something more than just media exposure. I’ve been vocally cautious about the influx of new vendors, and how it will effect the overall street vending scene in New York City- but that hasn’t stunted my support for a bunch of the new school vendors- like the Treats Truck, Schnitzel & Things, Wafels & Dinges, Street Sweets, and NYC Cravings. And the one thing those vendors have in common is you can feel the passion behind what they are doing. It’s a personal business for all of them, and it comes across in their twitter accounts, their customer service, and most importantly, their food.
I know some people will say “It should just be about the food! If it’s good, it’s good. If not, so long. Who cares who owns the truck.” I agree about the food part, but the free market doesn’t work that way. While old school vendors, like the Biriyani Cart and Kwik Meal, have to support themselves entirely with the money they make, trucks used as moving billboards don’t. They don’t have to be profitable because the larger company justifies their existence as a marketing expense. And the only person that hurts is us, the street food loving public. La Cense burgers are ok, but there are plenty of better burgers in Midtown- and if they weren’t backed by a larger corporate entity I doubt they’d stay in business for long. Sound familiar? It’s the same reason that Midtown is now filled with so many corporate fast food chains.
I still think that the forces against “Vendrification” will prevent large companies from taking over street vending in New York City. But the La Cense Burger truck model represents my biggest fears going forward. Single day, silly street vending marketing stunts are one thing. But permanent street vending trucks, operating as loss-leaders, whose sole purpose is to promote a larger entity? No thank you. I guess what I’m saying is, let the backlash against corporate marketing trucks begin here! Street vending should be about street vending, not about PR. Worse case scenario in my mind (next to the city outlawing all vending) is a Midtown filled with La Cense Burger Trucks.