By John Vogan & Alexandra Leslie
Previously published on Premiere, Ithaca’s Art and Entertainment Publication.
On the chilly morning of Dec. 3, steam pours from the open hatch of the Circus Truck as J.P. Vico prepares breakfast burritos for two of his regular customers. Vico’s is just one of eight food trucks in Ithaca currently dishing up mouthwatering cuisine from their mobile kitchens.
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Crepe Photo Courtesy Mark Anbinder
As the name suggests, the truck is a symbol of not only his passion for cooking, but also sideshow performing, Vico said. When it gets dark enough, he projects old black and white films showcasing circus performances for customers to enjoy while they chow down on alla vodka pasta — a ‘velvety homemade tomato cream sauce accented with vodka’ — or a seitan (gluten wheat) reuben sandwich.
Vico is left with a bad taste in his mouth, however, due to the city’s lack of a mobile vending permit policy hindering his operation. He and other truck owners have been left to negotiate with private property owners for places to set up shop. When a new building development forced him out of his original location on the corner of Seneca Street and State Route 13, he moved to the parking lot outside the Finger Lakes Beverage Center on West Green Street.
“The only reason this truck has even survived here a couple months is because the people who already knew about it from before [keep coming back],” Vico said.
Though Vico sits alone in the West Green Street parking lot, others are also caught in the food truck dilemma.
Amanda Beem-Miller, co-owner of The Good Truck, offering a Mexican-inspired menu that features seasonal and local ingredients, is one of the founding members of the Ithaca Food Truck Association, which began a year ago on Dec. 15.
“My business partner and I had spent years cooking for other people, and we really wanted to do our own thing,” she said. “This was the most economically viable way to have our own business.”
Without a permit in place, mobile vendors are barred from operating on city streets and property, with the exception of a special permitting process for The Commons.
In the meantime, The Good Truck owners, along with other food truck proprietors, worked with the city to create a pilot program that allows for vendors to operate at specific times on public property. This led to the weekly Food Truck Round Up at Thompson Park on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings.
“There’s a philosophy in business, especially in food, that the more choices there are, the more people we can get to come,” Beem-Miller said.
Mark Anbinder, a food writer and editor of 14850 Dining, agreed. He said he understands the brick and mortar restaurants’ concerns of increased competition, but thinks there is a benefit to be gained by boosting an area’s attractiveness with more variety.
“It’s also true, maybe especially in Ithaca’s neighborhoods, that ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ When there are attractive eateries in an area, people get used to going there for food, so for example I don’t see the Circus Truck taking away from Maxie’s and On the Street, even though they’re in the same area. I see it as one more option that makes people think of heading to the West End for food,” Anbinder said.
A vote on the pending permit proposal is planned for the Board of Public Works meeting on Dec. 9.