Since this site started, we’ve gone from having literally no food trucks in the area to a quickly growing fleet of them across the area. And now there’s the Greater Lehigh Valley Mobile Food Alliance, a new non-profit aimed at helping foster new food trucks, promote existing ones, and advance the cause of mobile food throughout the area.
Tracey Mathews, who operates the Trixie’s Treats truck, first started researching and reaching out to other mobile food truck alliances, such as the Boston Food Truck Alliance and the Philly Mobile Food Association, in 2012 to find out how larger cities expand the footprint of where food trucks are allowable. With only a few trucks in the area at the time, the idea was put on the backburner.
Later in 2013, Tima Bonner and Hala Rihan-Bonner opened the Taza Truck, an Egyptian cuisine food truck and quickly found out that the regulations and ordinances in many towns and cities around the Lehigh Valley weren’t conducive to the food truck business. After meeting with Mathews, then one of the only food trucks in the Lehigh Valley, and George Bieber, the president of the Philly Mobile Food Association, the two teams approached other food trucks that had popped up in the area about forming an organization. They also spoke with Matt Heller, the president of the National Food Truck Association as well as the Institute of Justice, a civil liberties law firm based in Washington DC.
One of the issues with food trucks and mobile food vendors in the Lehigh Valley, which we’ve written about at length, are the ordinances that forbid them in many cities and townships. Bonner says, “..the area has been difficult, and we all have faced ordinance challenges.” He urges customers and food truck lovers to fill out paper and online petitions against these ordinances. The alliance will be working with the Institute of Justice this year to revise and repeal “outdated ordinances that directly restrict mobile vending in the Lehigh Valley.” Bonner says, “These laws do not reflect the reality of modern mobile vending and do not reflect the desire of many locals who many to see more mobile vending in their towns and cities.” Bonner and the alliance plan to use the petitions when addressing these issues with city and municipal boards. He said he hopes to “address these challenges WITH cities and municipalities to partner with them and provide guidance to develop a fair system for mobile vending that allows mobile businesses to thrive in the area, while also making sure that the concerns of brick and mortar restaurants are addressed.”
Bonner points to data and studies conducted by the Institute of Justice that he says directly refute the claims and concerns of business owners in Bethlehem had when they were opposing a hot dog cart in the area. They indeed show that food trucks not only don’t drive away traffic from brick and mortar businesses, but actually increase business to those restaurants. Bonner said that in areas in Philadelphia that have embraced the food truck scene have experienced more walking traffic, which has led to increased business overall, and more safety in areas where food trucks regularly operate. He adds, “…many cities develop food truck pods (permanent locations for trucks to serve for a daily fee) that have lice music and arts…that become a huge draw to the city.”
As well as promoting the food truck cause through legislation, the alliance helps members by promoting their trucks throughout the web presence and social media networks, include them in rotations at partner vending locations (including breweries, wineries, and corporate parks), and disseminate information about events and markets from Philadelphia up to the Poconos. Members of the alliance are also afforded assistance with the Institute of Justice to face ordinance challenges. Bonner said interest in food trucks in the Lehigh Valley is booming and the alliance receives multiple requests for information from prospective businesses every month.
He urged that anyone wanting to start up a business to contact the alliance as they can provide information on how to build trucks, financing/funding, and finding legal vending spots. “The networking and camaraderie that our members receive is worth a great deal because running a mobile food business is challenging, and we all benefit from sharing our experiences with each other.” For prospective food truck businesses, the alliance offers a special membership rate for those working on setting up a business that don’t yet have a truck. An ‘allied’ membership also allows businesses and non-profits to support the alliance and advertise with trucks.
Bonner eventually hopes the alliance can develop those aforementioned truck ‘pods’ in downtown areas, similar to progressive food cities like Austin, Portland, and San Francisco. The mobile food alliance is also planning a fall food truck even with all of the local trucks, live music, local beer, and local spirits.
The Greater Lehigh Valley Mobile Food Alliance board now includes Tim Bonner (Taza Truck) as president, Tracey Mathews (Trixie’s Treats) as vice president, Hala Rihan-Bonner (Taza Truck) as events board member, Ashley Caldwell (Full of Crepe) as treasurer, and Sue Robson (Smokin’ Bull Shack) as secretary. For more information on starting a truck, the Institute of Justice studies, supporting food trucks in the Lehigh Valley, and booking a food truck, you can head over to the GLVMFA website or like them on Facebook.