Battle between food trucks, restaurants to continue at City Hall

Food truck owners say matter comes down to friendly competition

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Food trucks and permanent restaurants in downtown Jacksonville have a history of disagreeing.

And now, all interested parties are invited to attend a meeting Wednesday at City Hall to continue the conversation.

Brick-and-mortar restaurants often complain about their mobile business rivals, saying food trucks aren’t fair and that they eat up the majority of their customer base.

But the food truck owners who spoke with News4Jax said the matter comes down to capitalism, free enterprise and some friendly competition.

“To do something that I love to do, and just to have the entrepreneurial spirit and opportunity that’s here (is great),” said Gary Lathion, of Latin Soul Grill.

Added Larry Lawson, of Rite On Que, “Oh, we’re all just one big family. I mean, everybody helps out each other.”

Lathion and Lawson are just a couple of the many food truck owners and operators in Jacksonville. A food truck court sits downtown, in addition to trucks that park and offer their menus elsewhere in the city.

While many food truck owners said it’s like a family, they also hear the complaints from owners of established, permanent restaurants. City Council will hold the upcoming meeting with both sides.

“I think in the free enterprise system, that customers have the opportunity to choose which one they like the best,” Lathion said. “It just depends, and boils down to great food and great customer service.”

But some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners are struggling, and they blame food trucks as a component of the problem downtown.

Food truck owners don’t see it that way.

“Jacksonville as a whole has embraced (the) food truck community,” Lathion said. “People who are passionate about food and serving the community has been a win-win combination for us. So I’m just kind of shocked that they would blame us for their demise or not being so successful.”

Added Lawson, “They’re trying to run their business. Some of (them) have been in business down here a long time. And I certainly understand that. But the people downtown want choices too for food. And we’re able to bring that to ‘em.”

But what about the customers?

One customer at Art Walk last week said he goes to the food trucks downtown for lunch every day.

He said the food is better, and that owners are responsive to suggestions by customers.

Tom Thorton, who leads a group of downtown restaurant owners, and opposes food trucks, declined a phone interview Tuesday night, but said, “There are too many ants at the picnic. … The pie is not in slices anymore. It’s in slivers.”

The City Council’s Neighborhoods, Community Investments and Services Committee workshop is set for 4 p.m. Wednesday on the first floor in Council Chamber.

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