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Tucker Curtin versus the Food Trucks

You’d think that a restaurateur would welcome some competition. You’d think that a diner, when confronted with a popular hamburger food truck, would make a better hamburger to compete. Or tout the fact that it serves booze. You’d think that a person with a monopoly on food on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor would have some self-awareness about it. 

According to Jill Terreri in the Buffalo News, Buffalo restaurateur Tucker Curtin wants Buffalo’s food trucks to operate under much more stringent regulations than any other food business in town, than they operate under currently, and than most trucks in most cities operate. Tucker Curtin owns the Steer, Lake Effect Diner, and Dug’s Dive – all three reasonably forgettable purveyors of mediocre crap, sometimes done up in a trendy way. 

Curtin, whose restaurants I will never again patronize, retained counsel to agitate for rules that include:

- no food truck may operate within 100 feet of any private property of any sort without express permission of the owner or tenants;

- no food truck may park within 25 feet of a hydrant, intersection, or driveway to a lot with more than 10 spots;

- all food trucks must have a restaurant license.

- all food truck workers must have a peddler’s license. Everyone from the kid who heats up your tortilla to the person who writes the ticket;

- that trucks operate under special restrictions on Elmwood and Hertel, not just Buffalo Place;

The trucks in Buffalo pay a $1,000 fee for an annual permit for the privilege of serving food from a mobile unit that has none of the advantages of brick and mortar restaurants. This is about three times what trucks pay in most other cities, and the restrictions effectively forbid them from operating where the people are. Buffalo Place and downtown Buffalo is effectively cut off to them unless they pay another thousand-plus-dollar permit fee –  for the privilege of an inconvenient spot far from where people are.  On Elmwood and Hertel, it’s not easy finding a legal spot when people are out and about.

Curtin’s motives are unknown, but what he is attempting to accomplish amounts to nothing more than protectionism and anticompetitive behavior in a town not noted for its business friendliness or open-mindedness. The fact that the current ordinance was passed was amazing. The fact that it’s too restrictive and too expensive is something that needs to be remedied – not worsened. Tucker Curtin’s restaurants aren’t able to compete effectively with sliders from the Knight Slider truck, so he is going to war. 

I don’t quite want to hear about how Curtin has the right to say or lobby for what he wants. I don’t quite want to hear that he may have a point. He does have the right to agitate for what he wants, and I have a right to despise what he wants and to criticize it. Likewise, I don’t think he has a point at all. If your restaurant serves food that is so forgettably mediocre that a slider truck cleans your clock, maybe you should step up your game instead of lobbying your pals on the Common Council to punish your competition. It is, quite frankly, a prime example of what’s wrong with Buffalo. 


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=691748022 Michael Powers

    Not to blindly agree, but “yep” sums it up there. If people are bypassing your diner car of mediorce fare for a fresh slider or whatever, perhaps making some better fare would cultivate some customers a little quicker.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mikeinwny Michael Rebmann

    I was very disgusted to see Tucker Curtain advocating these positions. I have frequented Dug’s Dive in the past. There are some decent menu items. The lure of the waterfront was the main attraction. I probably will not patronize his locations in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1139791627 Becky Harbison

    Another “yep” here.There are people that relish the dining experience and others who just want to eat because they’re hungry. His customers should not be the ones flocking to the food trucks. If so, he really needs to reevaluate his product and setting. Food trucks rock!

  • Brian Buckley

    I’ve been to Dug’s Dive once, it was horrible. I’ve never been to Lake Effect and never eaten at the Steer. He gets none of my money going forward.

  • tonyintonawanda

    I was surprised by Tucker’s actions. I wouldn’t think that the food truck clientele and the sit down patrons are the same. I’m not doing a business lunch at the food truck and conversely the days when I want to grab some quick and get back to the office, I’m not heading to the diner. Obviously there is some overlap, but I would think there is room for both to be successful.

  • Colin Eager

    I like food trucks, and I’m aware that they’re not the license to print money that people occasionally think they are.

    That said, I don’t think it’s that easy to dismiss arguments that they should be better regulated, or regulated at all. Of course, those arguments are self interested when they come from brick and mortar owners, but that doesn’t invalidate their content. Brick and mortar places really do anchor their blocks or neighborhoods, their rents help keep buildings viable, they provide shared public or semi-public spaces, they employ larger numbers of workers than trucks do, they pay property tax, etc. These are real issues.

    • http://twitter.com/Jaquandor Kelly Sedinger

      I don’t see anyone claiming that there aren’t real issues worth discussing. I do see strong opposition (with which I agree) to one particular restaurateur’s scorched-earth attempt to use those issues to squash his competition.

      • Colin Eager

        Well, Alan’s post suggests that there aren’t real issues here — “I don’t quite want to hear that he may have a point. . . I don’t think he has a point at
        all.” The responses here focus on the relative quality of the food at trucks and Curtin’s restaurants, or Curtain’s self interest. That’s true of most of the debate that I’ve seen on this issue, which tends to break down to “I like food trucks so arguments against them are false.”

      • http://twitter.com/billm5353 billm5353

        I think that the discussion would be best served by focusing on regulating the impact that food trucks may have on safety… health inspections, traffic and pedestrian safety, etc. Who prefers which style of food, or how to protect one business model from an innovative competitor, are not regulatory issues for government to manage. Let the marketplace decide.

      • http://twitter.com/Jaquandor Kelly Sedinger

        Again, I’m not sure that Alan’s suggesting that there are no real issues to be discussed. I think that what he’s saying is that, as a way of jumpstarting any discussion of the real issues pertaining to the existence of food trucks, Curtin’s attempted bullying of them into a complete inability to function is a nonstarter. Why even attempt a discussion with someone who frames their argument in such a way?

        (As for me personally, I have never once eaten at any of Curtin’s restaurants, and aside from a single serving of nachos purchased at last year’s Taste of Buffalo, I’ve never once eaten anything from any of our local food trucks, so I don’t have any real vested interest in this, aside from my general belief that Buffalo really really REALLY needs to think hard these days before making it harder for businesses to launch and function.)

      • http://twitter.com/buffalopundit Alan Bedenko

        The reason he doesn’t have a point is because the reason why he’s doing this has to do with his being butthurt over the Knight Slider being 101′ from the wall of the Steer one weekend night. It incensed him that a truck could park “so close” to his awful place and saw it as an assault on his business, which it wasn’t.

        Since then, he has been using what little political weight he has – and his deep pockets – to punish the trucks.

        The upshot of all of this is that not a single truck has been complained about or cited for violating the perfectly reasonable regulations already in place during the entire year they’ve been operating under them.

        I think the current regulations are reasonable, except for the fee and the de facto exclusion from downtown Buffalo’s core. That the trucks aren’t allowed to congregate in, say, Lafayette Square or along Main Street is idiotic, as that’s where the people are and seriously there’s not much to eat for lunch downtown.

        So, Tucker Curtin may have theoretically had a point, but not in this instance he doesn’t.

      • http://twitter.com/briancbray Brian Bray

        Downtown Buffalo is a special taxing district in which the property owners voluntarily pay more in taxes and that funding is dedicated to that area. If the food trucks want access to that market, shouldn’t they contribute to the fund in which pays for efforts to make that area more attractive?

    • http://twitter.com/briancbray Brian Bray

      Another point is that the brick and mortar restaurant have a shared interest in seeing the neighborhood succeed. Brick and mortar restaurants have invested in the city and whose success is greatly dependent upon the surrounding neighborhood. Since the restaurants have invested in the city, the city owes them a level of protection from unfair competition. Mobile food trucks, in comparison, have invested in vehicle that they can and will move if the aren’t profitable in a location. Why should the city, then, care about their viability?
      I don’t see why the city – any city – should allow food trucks.

      Some of requests by Curtin is certainly over the top, but his fundamental point is legitimate.

      • http://www.facebook.com/scott.whitmire Scott Whitmire

        ” unfair competition”

        Those look like English words, but they make so sense strung together like that. It’s not up to the city to “allow” commerce. It’s not up to the city to allow folks to trade goods and services as they see fit. Let people vote with their dollars and stop meddling in peoples affairs. The degree of regulation for food trucks should end at prevention of botulism. No one getting sick from your food? You’re not lying about what’s in it? Carry on smartly.

      • http://twitter.com/briancbray Brian Bray

        First point: Unfair competition refers to reception of services, directly or indirectly, for which they do not pay for. City residents primarily pay for these services by way of property taxes, which food trucks, since they do not own city property, do not pay.

        Second point: The city has a fiduciary responsibility to itself and, ultimately, to property owners in the city. If there is a legitimate threat that food trucks can negatively affect property values, the city should tread carefully.

        Third point: The city does not allow commerce every day by way of zoning regulations. Folks are not able to trade goods and services as they see fit. For example, people cannot declare their residential home a restaurant on a whim. How is the zoning process fundamentally different than imposing regulations on a business that sets up shop in a Winnebago?

        Last point: What is a legitimate business to have on wheels? Should one be able to sell wine from a Winnebago parked 50 feet from a liquor store? Should one be able to give haircuts, sell insurance, groom pets, give massages? For that matter, should I be able to park a van in Spaulding Lake and be able to send my kids to Clarence schools?

  • disqus_2S6LOEfsR9

    Food trucks are popular, especially downtown, because there aren’t that many places for office workers to choose from, to get lunch and back to the office within an hour. This is something many of the restaurants around the downtown area just don’t get–we have limited time to eat! Folks can get a delicious hot lunch from food trucks. And most food trucks are not in the same spot every day! So what’s the big deal? Give the people what they want!

  • Mike_Chmiel

    And you can add me to the list of people who will never patronize a Curtin establishment again.

    Typical
    Buffalo reaction – instead of relying on his own product to stand on
    its own, he resorts to cheaply attempting to influence legislation to
    eliminate his competition. And the dumbest thing is that food trucks
    are in no way his competition. Does he really think someone is going to
    avoid a beach/waterfront eatery to go search out a truck somewhere? Or
    walk out of a diner for truck fare? The bad publicity he is engendering
    will cause far more damage than even the best food truck could.

    • Ridgewaycynic2013

      Perhaps Mr. C’s scared his cook will duck out for a sammich?…

  • Thomas

    Tucker Curtin the early years:” By the time I was thirteen, I was working a sandwich board business
    with a couple of college guys. I ended up taking over, hiring high
    school seniors to work with me during festival times, carrying the
    boards up and down Elmwood” – Bet you can’t walk around with sandwich boards outside of the Curtin properties today.

  • http://twitter.com/MikePatRaleigh Michael Raleigh

    This post is spot on.

    Nice job by the council in not agreeing to any of Mr Curtain’s suggested changes to the regulations, but a 500 dollar yearly renewal fee? Is there any legitimate justification for that cost? Permit requirements and costs in Buffalo are ridiculous.

  • disqus_vjhvRyiZG3

    We ate at the Lake Effect Diner a few years back. In talking to the manager or owner it came out that we had never been there before, to which he responded, “Well, it’s your job to come here the first time, and it’s our job to make you want to come back again.” Sounds as if that would apply quite well here!

  • KBuffalo

    I hope Tucker Curtin visits this site or the Buffalo News, reads the comments, and sees how much goodwill this gambit has cost him. Although I was familiar with his restaurants, I had never heard his name before this. Now, it’s being lambasted by food truck lovers all over the Buffalo blogosphere. People who have worked with or for him are coming out of the woodwork with negative stories. People are saying that they’ll never step foot in one of his restaurants again. People are echoing Alan’s sentiments that Curtin embodies the problems of this region. For everyone who’s not speaking up in the comments, you know there are likely more that are thinking these things. Was it worth it, Tucker?

  • http://www.facebook.com/oysterboyjoel Joel Altre-Kerber

    I agree with Alan’s points. Additionally, why does this City feel as is this is the first time ANY city has had to figure out how food trucks and ‘brick & mortars’ can co-exist? Go find out where it DOES work and take the best practice. We’re always doing things the hard way.

    Oh, and Tucker? You’ve lost my business too. Nice job there.

  • disqus_mhkMEn1Yit

    Curtin’s restaurants are unique in only one way…. the mediocre food that they serve. Whether it be the Steer, Lake Effect Diner or Dug’s Dive it is all the same. When he was on Diners, Drive Ins and Dives it was the only time you will ever see those dishes…LOL!!

  • Kaylynn

    I’ve been to all of his restaurants, but only once. Mediocre at best. I’ve had MUCH better food on a food truck. Food that is more fresh than any of these restaurants. Better customer service than these restaurants.(On my only visit to Dug’s Dive, we had sat for 15 min waiting for a server. We got up and left) If Tucker Curtin wants a fair playing field,he should make better food. Not cheap crap.