Food trucks on the menu in Birmingham

Feb 5, 2013

Beginning Sunday, the Alabama Public Radio newsroom will help premiere a new television program about business. It’s called “Alabama, Inc.” and it will air Sundays at 4 pm and 4:30pm on WVUA-TV. This week on APR, you’ll hear two stories from that opening program. Subject number one is food trucks in the Birmingham area by Alabama Inc. host Gigi Douban. Tacos and Vietnamese sandwiches and gourmet popsicles. Depending on where you are in Alabama, you don't necessarily have to go to a restaurant to find these things. They're on the street in food trucks. Mobile food options are growing here, as they are in a lot of American cities. But even where cities have allowed them, food truck operators are still trying to find their way through a long road of resistance. “So I've cut my teeth in a lot of fine dining restaurants and decided I wanted to get out of the submarine and see the people I'm serving,” says chef Michael Brandon. “And be able to breathe some fresh air. So here we are.” Here is near the corner of 5th Avenue and 20th Street in downtown Birmingham. Spoonfed Grill is one of about ten food trucks licensed in Birmingham. During the lunch rush, Brandon stays pretty busy, serving anywhere from sixty to one hundred people a day. The menu features things like Latin Soul Bowl and cranberry lime turkey burgers. When Brandon took the leap into the mobile food business, he never imagined he’d face so many roadblocks. “ I thought I'd be going into this to have a little bit easier lifestyle as a chef, and um, being your own boss could be a little bit easier,” thought Brandson. “But then you put the pressure on yourself even more so, and you rev up your engine, literally.” The self-imposed pressure of being an entrepreneur is one thing. That not everyone wants a food truck around is another. Take the City of Trussville, for example. Lynn Porter is the city clerk there, and she says for special events and festivals, sure, food trucks are allowed. “But on a day to day basis, we have not allowed food trucks.” Says Porter. Porter says that's because food trucks take away profits from brick and mortar restaurants. And the way she sees it, brick and mortar places are the ones who have made a solid investment in the city. It's worth noting that food trucks have to pay sales tax and business license fees, too. Food truck operators in the Birmingham area are also organizing a support group to try to get fair treatment from city officials.