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.

Why “Vendrification” Will Never Happen in NYC
Your First Look At (And My Humble Suggestions For) The New La Cense Burger Truck


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    I never had one… and am not inclined to go looking for one, but I watched Food, Inc. this weekend and I can respect the grass fed beef idea. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll understand. If not, then in a nutshell, our food industry is owned by basically 4 companies and we’ve manipulated the cow to feed on corn which is unnatural for them and a big reason why there have been many e.coli outbreaks in the last 10 years.

  • what’s next? a rant about how Chipotle sucks?

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    This is a massive fail of a post.

  • Good job RBS05! Way to follow up a “massive fail of a post” with a massive fail of a comment!

    Unless you care to qualify how the post was a massive fail…

  • If there’s one thing that really gives me pause about the Street Vendor Project, it’s that there’s this idea that anything that encroaches on a vendor’s way of life is bad. Basically saying, the system should never change if it’ll hurt those who support their family based upon the way the current system works.

    I can’t speak for other consumers, but I spend money on whether the cart gives me good food or not. If there’s a cart in the future that’s supported by Monsantos and leaves me fat and happy after? Then I’m going there. If that cart is owned by a farmer who only takes ingredients from within 100 miles, then that’s where my dollars will go.

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    I never got around to trying Le Cense, but I’m not sure I agree, either. Having more short-term carts/trucks like La Cense, Dessert Truck or the Bon Appetit Pop Up Cafe livens up what can be a repetitive lunch options. After the fuss and the press most people still go to their old stand-bys whether it is Kwik Meal or Pret. Yes, Le Cense temporarily takes money away from the hard working committed vendors, but there is value in getting new food options or young and innovative chefs onto the street (a la Dessert Truck) to see what will work and what won’t. I think we all benefit from having a broader range of options (like grass-fed beef that you won’t find at any hallal cart), even if they don’t last very long.

    I miss the dessert truck (well my kids do at least), but I’m hopeful they’ll sell their truck and license to someone even more interesting. I’m looking forward to that even more than their restaurant.

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    Monsantos is the devil of the soy bean industry. LOL

  • @RAP – I completely agree with you! I loved the Dessert Truck and fully supported them. What I wouldn’t support is Sara Lee opening a dessert truck in Midtown to promote their line of grocery store desserts. They could afford to do it, even without selling a single dessert on the street, because as a large company they’d write it off as a business expense. To me, that is the direction I’m afraid street vending is moving towards… and the first truck that represents that possible trend is La Cense. The fact is as long as street vending is seen as this great PR device, we will always be in danger of losing trucks like the Dessert Truck, to large corporate trucks that don’t need to be profitable because they are backed by big companies.

    I’m not worried about these trucks taking money away from other vendors. I’m worried that mediocre, corporate owned trucks (operating primarily as billboards or PR magnets) will use up a permit that could have been used on a truck serving delicious food!

  • I’d rather see a La Cense beef truck than any of the hundreds of dirty water dog slingers, each of which also takes up a permit. It’s a free market, so let the market decide who stays and who packs up. If their burgers aren’t so hot (I agree that they’re not the best for flavor, but that grass-fed thing is commendable), that will only make the brand look bad and obviate their marketing purpose. If marketing is their only ambition, it would be far cheaper to hire a real “moving billboard” on the side of a bus or taxi than have to hire guys and invest in a truck, permit, etc. I say more power to them if they want consumers to get a taste of their product. If Omaha Steaks is next, so be it.

  • I agree!

    I’d also like to see no advertising on food blogs.

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    how is one truck owned by a large corporation any different from the hundreds of halal carts obviously getting the same food at each one parked just blocks away from eachother? same for the hotdog carts? if they hired someone to run the truck that was one of those vendors, would it be just as upsetting?

    i understand the food not tasting good then the truck should stop, but dont say that its because its because another vendor should take over because we all know that other vendor is either going to serve shish-ka-bobs, hotdogs, pretzels or gyros…

  • @RAP,
    Honestly with the Dessert Truck, I think they didn’t tell us the whole story. Unless they have lots of other burgeoning businesses on the side… you’re not going to forget to file your papers on time.

    More likely? They got their permit on the black market too and that’s the dirty little secret of all the new food trucks. You notice none of them ever talk about the being on the waiting list for the permits… so them giving up their permit for a more interesting truck? It’s more likely that the guy who sold them the permit on the black market decided he wanted more money from the Dessert Truck and the DT guys knew it wouldn’t be worth it.

    Of course, I could just be blabbering and they got their $200 dollar permit straight from the city and decided “aw shucks, let’s accidentally forget to renew it.”

  • @spydr – The halal and hot dog vendors exist because there is enough business to support them. La Cense exists because it is backed by a corporation that makes money elsewhere(not from selling burgers on the street.) That’s the distinction I’m trying to make…

    I think part of the reason street food has become so popular in Midtown over the past few years is because so many of the mom and pop lunch shops have been pushed out of their brick and mortar locations by large corporations. And it has nothing to do with the quality of the food, it’s just the reality of the business environment in Midtown.

    I’m just saying I don’t want to see the same thing to happen to street vending.

  • Rudy- do you also like working for free?

    Zach- couldnt the same be said, then, about Rickshaw? or Halo Berlin?

  • It’s fairly inevitable that places like La Cense Burger Truck pop up. Street vending is only getting more popular and more visible. While independent vendors make some good food and have passion, where to draw the line of which vendors are good and which ones are bad is a slippery slope. locondcoco brings up good examples, and I’m sure there are others as well.

    The real problem is the permit issue. If you want to start a backlash and actually do something about the issue, I’m sure you’ll have supporters. But the hate towards places like La Cense is misguided.

  • Loco (and conversely Spydr):

    Rickshaw truck = extension of a restaurant.
    Hallo Berlin Cart = extension of a restaurant.
    LCB Truck = marketting wing for a large retailer.

    I think Zach was using too many words. Hopefully that boiled it down for you. So, no, same thing couldn’t be said about those two. When the rickshaw truck or hallo berlin cart stop making money, you can be sure they’ll be off the streets. The LCB truck is just a marketing gimmick for their mail order business (one that at least recoups some cost).

  • Danny – If your neighbor’s dog tasted good and left you fat and happy afterward, would you eat it? Do you really not give a second thought to your actions besides what sates you?

    /off high horse

  • If I’m going to overpay for an uncharred burger on a limp bun, at least have me off the line in under 15 minutes.

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    Your whole point has always been about street vendors bringing something innovative to the scene. To be upset about this truck (which I’ve never eaten from, btw) because they have enough financial support to continue to provide a somewhat unique street meal despite a lack of profitability is just crazy, IMO.

    Add on that you have put up posts detailing how hard it is for these guys to make money, I find this post to just be hypocritical. You can’t lambast the business model, telling people they should be fully aware of what they are getting into, and then be upset when someone figures out a way for it to work in a one-off manner (directing people to a more profitable business).

  • @Moons,
    We can go there, but that’s like the whole, “if everyone is jumping off of a cliff, would you do it?”

    Look, if you want a discussion about the real merits of volunteerism, we can go there. You know why people do it? Because it *feels* good when they do it. Yes you’re helping people, but sometimes people forget despite the selfless nature of it, people like volunteering because it makes them feel good about their own moral character.

    This is an important point because we as individual entities, like to be in control. Now, one downside of control is that we only have 24 hrs a day to control things.

    Let me ask you… how many parts in the computer you used to type this was made in China? How many of those dollars went to suppress democracy and to support censorship? How many of your iphone or cellphone dollars went to help drive the Dalai Lama out of Tibet?

    If you REALLY REALLY want to talk about KNOWING EXACTLY what your actions do, then let’s talk about that. Go ahead and make the next movie called Zero Impact Man 2. Be my guest.

    Just don’t use ridiculous arguments like “oh if everyone jumps off of a cliff”

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