Editor’s note: On Monday, WAVE-3 troubleshooter Erik Flack did an investigative report on Louisville’s food truck scene. While the report showed popular, reputable food trucks, it focused on a mobile vendor, The Caveman Grill, with a 14-day permit and, indeed, hazardous cooking conditions.
Connie Mendel, of the Louisville Metro Health Department, could not disguise her disgust when asked about food trucks.
And as food truck fans ourselves, we immediately recognized blatant untruths and “shock journalism” in WAVE-3’s reporting.
If you haven’t seen the WAVE-3 report on the cleanliness of food trucks perhaps you’ve seen the public uproar on Facebook or Twitter. It sure has done a number on Louisville’s food truck industry, and we have defended and explained to exhaustion.
Louisville Metro Health Department representative Connie Mendel laughed when she was asked whether or not she eats at food trucks. “That’s funny,” she said.
The story primarily focused on a mobile vendor with completely different permitting than the food trucks on which they were supposedly focusing. And on the fact that he was using dirty water in a large tub to clean utensils.
We’re constantly fighting the stigma that comes with being tied to the concession trucks or the roach coaches most of us grew up with, so Louisville food trucks were prepared to weather the storm. We’re used to the constant dialogue about how clean and safe we are.
But you know who never gets considered in this conversation? The vendors and event planners with whom we do business.
My husband and I own Grind Gourmet Burger Truck. We specialize in custom-blended, local, grass-fed burgers. We primarily purchase from local businesses like Foxhollow Farms for our beef and Dolce for our bread.
Stone Cross Farms, who supplies our pork belly, thick cut bacon and lamb even made a statement on our Facebook about the news report saying, “It’s not good to attack an entire network of local businesses. If Grind loses business then we lose business.”
I would be the first person to invite anyone into our truck to watch the way we prepare food.
We’re not random people working for these businesses – we’re owners. Owners that care about these real businesses and pay real bills and live real lives based on how successful our small businesses are.
So while investigative reporting like this sometimes does a good job in its attempt to educate consumers, in this case it has effectively harmed small businesses and the businesses down the line with whom they work.
Need another example? Within 12 hours of the story airing, Dishcrawl, a company that gives consumers the opportunity to dine at four restaurants in one night for a set price had already had emails requesting refunds for tickets purchased for their approaching ‘food truck’ crawl.
Says Allison Taylor of Dishcrawl Louisville:
Dishcrawl sets a bar of having unique quality events to provide to consumers. I fight for every dollar that is spent on each event because people work hard for their money. To have a report come out that sensationalizes a particular angle while not focusing on all the facts hurts everyone. To have people ask for a refund after a story like that one makes it an uphill battle to convince people to attend as well as throw a successful event. Dishcrawl’s entire mission is to promote local establishments, without these to choose from we wouldn’t exist.
So while news reports like WAVE-3’s are clearly hurting the participating trucks and the local Dishcrawl representative, they’re also hurting all the vendors the trucks were going to purchase from.
All for a “hard hitting” story to get ratings.
In addition to this they have clearly terrified the people who had already bought tickets into asking for a refund.
I don’t have the actual statistics but off the top of my head I can think of no fewer than 50 people a story like this and our potential loss in sales will affect negatively.
So where do Louisville’s food truck go from here? We get an inspiring amount of love and support from the people who already know us and trust and eat at food trucks.
But what about the people like the ones who asked for a refund?
How do we win them back?
Can we win them back?
What about the farmers and small, local producers that will lose business because stories like this unfairly paint us as dangerous, causing us to lose sales and therefore purchase less frequently from them?
The general consensus is to keep on going and ignore what’s happening but that’s not a solution.
That doesn’t win back the customers that stories like this have caused us to lose.
(Editor’s note: If you want to learn more about food truck safety, Liz talks about it today on Michelle Jones’s Consuming Louisville.)