First Friday food trucks, take 2: Lottery solution undercooked?

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A plan to regulate food trucks at the First Friday event in the downtown Las Vegas Arts District got off to a bumpy start in November, and there’s no indication anything will be different this Friday.

The problem: there’s no foot traffic at the spots the City of Las Vegas has reserved for a total of five food trucks that won the right to work the event in an October lottery. The spots are away from Main Street crowds and well south of the action that draws people to art and performances near Charleston Boulevard.

Jose Merano, one of the owners of Mia’s D’licias food truck, won a spot at 1401 S. Commerce. He said the truck only had three or four customers for the Nov. 3 event, but he’s going to try again on Friday. He said two of those customers came because they know about Mia’s D’licias.

“We were there, but so little people,” Merano said.

And two other trucks parked near them. Merano told 8 News Now that the city never guaranteed that other trucks wouldn’t be allowed for the first run at the new way of regulating the event, which runs on the first Friday of each month in the Arts District.

A half-baked plan?

The city has figured out the lottery side — where food trucks pay a $50 fee to enter a random drawing for the spots. But owners say there’s no promotion to let people know where to find the food trucks.

Ivan, whose El Tio Panzón truck won the right to be at the Nov. 3 event, didn’t even take his truck out because it was so far away from the action.

Merano of Mia’s D’licias said, “They don’t promote the event. We’re not going to have any people, that’s the problem.”

The roster of food trucks that won spots in the Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 First Friday events. (City of Las Vegas)
The roster of food trucks that won spots in the Nov. 3 and Dec. 1 First Friday events. (City of Las Vegas)

City spokesman Jace Radke indicated changes could be coming.

“Our teams plan to be out there for the December First Friday (Dec. 1) to evaluate the current locations and the possibility of additional locations, which may accommodate more food truck’s needs. Following First Friday our team plans to reach out to vendors and discuss their experiences,” Radke said.

Who is the lottery helping?

The city has been trying to get a handle on the situation for years. In 2021, a plan was floated for a dedicated lot that would have 10 food trucks — but parking and sanitation concerns ended that plan. But those weren’t the only issues.

Food trucks were attacked for their “parasitic business model” during a March 3, 2021, City Council meeting.

Businesses — including quite a few established restaurants — don’t want the headaches caused when food trucks descend on First Friday. They have been known to block alleys and create traffic problems.

Competition for diners

Food trucks represent competition for a growing number of restaurants including Esther’s Kitchen — one of the city’s best Italian restaurants. There’s also Makers & Finders, Casa Don Juan, Houston TX Hot Chicken, Able Baker Brewing, Good Pie and The Pepper Club, attached to The ENGLish Hotel.

Four food trucks are approved to work this Friday’s event: Mia’s D’licias, Saul’s MX Kitchen, Hangry’s and Louie Louie. But they are sure to have competition from other trucks unless some enforcement is planned.

The city’s plan might have succeeded in protecting restaurants from unwanted competition, but it also might have created a need to police the streets for trucks that never bothered to apply for a spot through the lottery.

A lottery without losers isn’t a win-win for anyone.

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