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Downtown food fight pits sandwich shop against food truck

By Matthew F. Smith 11:12 PM November 5, 2013

Tensions boil between brick-and-mortar Brown Bag Sandwich Co. and mobile Urban Bamboo

ANCHORAGE – Mobile food trucks are an increasingly popular way to grab a bite to eat, but tensions are beginning to boil between a local restaurant and its four-wheeled competition.

At the Brown Bag Sandwich Co. in downtown Anchorage, lunchtime often brings a steady flow of customers. Owner Antoine McLeod said Monday that on the weekends, it’s a different story.

”I don’t have a problem with competition,” he said, amid of flurry of hands making sandwiches, cutting pickles and handing out meals. “As long as that competition is taking place at a level playing field.”

When it comes to the Urban Bamboo food truck, McLeod said that competition isn’t on the level playing field. The truck sets up shop just down the street from the Brown Bag, on the corner of 4th Avenue and D Street, just in front of the Avenue Bar.

That’s where McLeod said the food truck parks in metered parking spots after-hours. It’s a practice he said is both unfair and illegal.

”It’s just not fair for someone to be able to pull up during peak hours, not have to pay any of the real estate, any of the fees, any of the permits, [and] basically steal my customers and roll out at the end of the night,” he said.

McLeod points to the municipal code — Chapter 20, Section 30.02, to be exact — which reads “It is unlawful for anyone to use any public place … without first having applied for and obtained a permit.” He said he’s reached out to both the Anchorage Police Department and the municipality to address the issue.

A spokesperson for APD said it’s not a criminal matter and referred the issue to the municipal code enforcement officer, who did not return phone calls Monday.

“I totally love this kind of renaissance of great food places that are opening up in Anchorage,” McLeod said. “What I do have a problem with is … people operating illegally.”

“If I’m breaking a law, I’d like to see which one it is,” said John D’Elia, the owner of the Urban Bamboo food truck, the other side of the sandwich in the food fight.

D’Elia said he provides catering for the Avenue Bar, which is allowed under his food truck permit. Further, he said, his permit allows him to operate in public spaces; he contends that’s what those parking spaces are after-hours, when the meters no longer run.

“The meters are technically only meters until 6 o’clock” he said. “That’s not for me to make a decision, that’s for the municipality to make a decision.”

Multiple visits from the police—some addressing damage vandals have done to his truck, including broken windshields and windows—have found no criminal violations. D’Elia said he’s yet to hear from the city, but would like some guidelines.

”A clear definition needs to be given so that people aren’t doing things like this to my vehicle, and so people aren’t calling the police all the time,” he said. “I don’t need that in my life.”

A clear definition is just what the Anchorage Assembly is aiming for at a work session Thursday at City Hall.

”We have minimal regulations right now dealing with [food trucks]” said Assemblyman Dick Traini. “We have got to take a look and see, are there requirements, what do we have to put on them, in reference to ability of where they want to serve, and the people who have invested their money in the brick-and-mortar system.”

Members of the Anchorage Assembly will meet with municipal employees to discuss issues of roving vendors, right-of-way, and related issues Thursday.

Editor’s note: This article originally stated the Assembly would discuss the issue during a Rules Committee meeting on Thursday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, room 155. That meeting will be held as scheduled, but will not take up issues related to mobile food vendors.

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