Food Cart-ography: Boise's Street Food Business 

What's all the foodie rage across the nation is a near no-show in Boise but that might be changing

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Just as Bristol and Lamm seal the deal and prepare to launch B29, Bristol and his wife will head to San Francisco to make the rounds of food trucks. As for why they're not already more popular in Boise, Bristol doesn't know.

"I don't know why. The risk is less. It's a lot less start-up cost. It takes a lot less employees. It's a cash-only business. It doesn't make any sense why there aren't more," said Bristol.

But perhaps, with Bristol and Lamm blazing a trail for "the new food truck"--one that embraces culinary excellence on a budget and relies heavily on technology for marketing--the trend will start to take hold in Boise.

However, if Tyler Florence is right about economic factors being a primary driving force in the rise of food trucks, it may be that street food never really takes off here like it has elsewhere. Perhaps the cost of doing business in Boise is simply too cheap, relatively speaking, to make the investment in a truck worthwhile compared to a restaurant.

Michael Mohica, owner of Ono Hawaiian Cafe and Kanak Attack Catering, has been one of the only chefs so far to straddle both the brick-and-mortar and street-food sides of the restaurant business. Mohica, a Boise State culinary school graduate, started his career in catering. When people asked where they could get his Hawaiian food outside of catered events, Mohica purchased a trailer and, like Olson, started serving at park fairs. Eventually demand dictated he grow larger.

"We were open every weekend for different summer events, and people kept asking where to get our food, so we thought it was time to open a restaurant," said Mohica.

Comparing his brick-and-mortar business to his mobile business, Mohica said he loves the mobile business and even wishes Boise had a more robust food truck scene, but, he said, certain aspects are more difficult. For example, he pointed out, kitchen equipment is meant to be stable and traveling creates movement that's rough on equipment. Weather is always a factor. And after seven years in the mobile food business, Mohica has learned that grilling is a far better option than pan searing, for example, which he does much of in his restaurant.

Boise's weather is the first thing Sami Lauritsen talks about when asked about her years in the street food business. Lauritsen owns and operates Native Taters, a food trailer at the corner of Protest and Boise avenues. She's been serving comfort food--sandwiches, soups and salads--out of her trailer for the last four years.

"Business depends on the weather. If it's really cold or really hot or there's a change in the weather, it gets quiet," she said. And independent of the weather, said Lauritsen, business is just completely unpredictable--even on days when the weather isn't severe.

Aside from the weather, one thing she can't do much about is perception, particularly negative perception about food trailers.

"When we first started, I never saw a woman. A woman will not stop at a place like this," said Lauritsen. Before getting into the street food business, Lauritsen said her husband stopped at any food trailer he found, whereas she hadn't been likely to. After four years in business, she said only about a quarter of her customers are women. It's a perception that blogger Sadler touched on briefly as well, saying some people will not eat from a street food vendor because they're scared.

"My close friends and family realize it's good food, but I do have some friends who think, 'I don't know if I want to eat from a truck,'" he said. "But the great thing about a taco truck is that you can look inside and see how clean it is. There's more disclosure at a taco truck than at a real restaurant."

In Idaho, health regulations hold mobile food units to the same food storage and cleanliness standards as brick-and-mortar restaurants. Beyond state health statutes, city ordinances dictate where trucks and trailers, like carts, can park. In downtown, they cannot park within the core bordered by State and Myrtle streets between 11th and Fourth streets. Cities around the country are facing similar challenges with the rise in street food popularity. In Los Angeles, food trucks have drawn fire for disregarding parking laws. Chicago has yet to craft legislation that will allow food truck and trailer operators to actually cook food onsite. In Santa Rosa food trucks have been facing a ban after outcry from brick-and-mortar restaurant owners. Miami just instituted new rules on food truck permits. Seattle, which has few food trucks due to city restrictions, is looking to Portland--where city planners have embraced the street food scene as a means to achieving the city's livability goals--and may consider loosening restrictions to encourage business.

Here in Boise, the opening of B29 could signal the start of something new in the street food scene. In the meantime, business is running again in the old Portuguese Lunch Wagon, but this time the red and green lettering reads: "Maria's Mexican Food."

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