Treats Truck’s Kim Ima Speaks Out About the Current State of Food Trucks
It’s hard to believe it but in June of this year the Treats Truck will turn 5 years old. I still remember the first time I ate my first mexican brownie from Kim’s adorable truck, and that day seems like yesterday as much as it seems like 20 years ago. It has always been tough for street food vendors on the street of Midtown, but if you’ve been following the scene over the past 18 months, you know it’s gotten that much tougher. So tough that Kim, the good samaritan that she is, rarely parks in Midtown anymore. But she hasn’t given up, and today she asked us to post this update to all her fans who are eager for her to return to Midtown on a more permanent basis.
I started The Treats Truck in June 2007. I loved the idea of having customers all over the city, and couldn’t wait to get started. I studied the city’s rules and guidelines and set out looking for places to park my truck.
When you own a food truck in New York City, you’re given lists of restrictions and rules, and you do your best to find a suitable spot. In addition, you soon find out there is also the reality of the streets, and each block is different. You have to put in the time to figure out where you fit in. Even after you establish your spots, you must remain sensitive to changes in the way a particular block works.
It was not easy that first summer, but it was also magical.
A grand adventure in a totally new world. A group of older Greek ice cream vendors took me under their wing. The leader of the group, Jimmy, brought me to his garage to meet his men–one word from Jimmy and that was it. I was one of them. The men were amused by me, scratching their heads as they looked me up and down–a small woman with a truck full of brownies who wanted to park in so many places and not just one (foolish girl!). They offered me daily advice and encouragement and all the free ice cream I could eat.
Over that summer and into the next year, I would go to a block many weeks in a row before deciding if I was a good match for a neighborhood. It sometimes took months to establish a spot. Over time, I built up a good rotation of regular stops around town. I made friends with the other vendors, UPS men, office workers, and residents. In most places, I think I seemed harmless enough to the shopkeepers and building managers. Just treats? No coffee, no meals? How much can the girl sell? She seems nice. She works so hard. It’s okay. And, she sells cookies! And after over four years of vending, I had built up more than six regular spots with hundreds of regular customers.
Then everything changed.
Last June the police came to me and explained that all food trucks would be moved out of Midtown (and other spots soon to follow). The penalties would be severe–tickets, towing, maybe even court summonses. A judge had recently ruled against one particular truck that had been getting into trouble on the Upper East Side–when the owners of the truck went to court to challenge the regulation from 1965, no selling of merchandise from a parking meter, which had been used strategically to move their truck out of the neighborhood, they lost. Food is merchandise, the judge ruled–a precedent-setting first for the city.
Up until this ruling, the informal consensus by the city and the police had always been that this regulation was not meant to include food, so unless someone complained about you, you could park and sell in peace. Now, the police informed me, everyone has to go. They were kind but firm, and wished me well. Make another plan, you can’t stay here, close now and go, good luck.
Soon, I would see my profits drop by 50%.
Over the past five years, a new generation of food trucks has emerged, making their best burgers, fries, desserts, ethnic fusion, grilled cheese–all great additions to the existing street food scene of chicken and rice, falafel, arepas, tacos, hot dogs, and ice cream. I like to think of all the trucks – both old and new–as carousel horses. When I was a kid, I loved that moment when you got to pick the horse you wanted to ride. The yellow one with the purple and red ribbons or the black horse with the gold harness, head back, hoof raised? Oh, such a delightful decision to make in the 30 seconds before the ride began! The world of food trucks–with its diversity of food, colorful branding, and passionate cooks–make for quite a ride on the carousel.
I hope the city can figure out a way to make room for food trucks. It would be a shame to see these small businesses disappear. And I believe the city would miss them. Whenever I’m asked what is the best part of my business, I answer without hesitation–hands down, the best part of my business is the customers. They are a pleasure, truly, and our daily exchanges at the truck are what I remember most at the end of the day. Owning a food truck in New York City has been, and I hope will continue to be, my privilege and great good fortune.