Food Trucks in Downtown Boston … but Pushcarts Heading Out?

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Posted March 25, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Business
Pushed out. It would be a shame to see carts like this removed from Downtown Crossing.  Photo Credit: Scott Kearman

Every time I exit the T station at Downtown Crossing, the scent of roasted nuts hits me like a ton of really delicious bricks. Granted, I’m usually running too late to snag a bag from a pushcart, but the familiar aroma is all I need. Now, if certain people have their way, I won’t even have that.

Long story short: There’s a movement to push out the pushcart program. I’m all for adding new options—food trucks in downtown Boston? Yes, please—but not at the expense of the pushcarts, which have kept the area feeling lively through good times and bad.

This month, the Downtown Boston Improvement District (BID) announced that it would not be renewing permits for the pushcart program, which includes almost 30 vendors, when they expire at the end of March. Many pushcart operators have been here for decades and have already incurred costs for the rest of 2013, from merchandise purchases to storage fees. The news from BID felt like their livelihoods were being served an execution notice. They were dead men walking—with Italian sausages in one hand, a selection of Ray-Bans in the other.

Then Mayor Menino came to the rescue. Having told newspapers that he opposes kicking out the pushcart operators, Menino granted a 60-day extension to vendors. That buys them until the end of May to figure out a permanent solution. In the meanwhile, the pushcart operators have filed a lawsuit and launched a petition at change.org, which has received over 1,000 signatures. We’ll have to wait and see how the next step in these negotiations plays out.

To be fair, BID has claimed that it’s not looking to boot out the pushcarts outright. The organization wants to launch a smaller, upgraded version of the program that would include more elevated offerings, like food trucks in downtown Boston. I get that. I’d certainly love to see a greater hodgepodge of options, including food trucks and—way less overdone—fashion trucks.

Hey BID: Give the enterprising merchants behind Green Street Vault and The Fashion Truck a jingle, okay? I’d also be into mobile bars, if we could do something about that?

But the time-honored tradition of pushcarts should be embraced, not rejected. If the overarching concern is that owners of new high-end residences downtown will be turned off by pushcarts, get real. You don’t have to look far to see how that’s not the case. Take a look at New York City, or any other city where these sights are standard.

Pushcarts make a downtown economy feel like a downtown economy. They offer tourists a glimpse of local color. They give residents an alternative to the “everything-upscale” mentality. Not to mention, they give jobs to hard-working people who stick by the area through thick and thin and who don’t deserve to be thrown under the wheels of a luxury bus.

If the idea is simply to add new options, here are three of my favorite food carts in downtown Boston. These totally deserve some extra hours in the heart of DTX:

  • Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese: This truck serves up gooey goodness with an elevated twist: Think muenster cheese with homemade guacamole and bacon. If that wasn’t good enough, Roxy’s owner has told papers he supports pushcarts downtown and doesn’t want food trucks to benefit at their expense; there’s plenty of business to go around. Starting on April 2, you’ll find it rolling around the Rose Kennedy Greenway: Mondays and Tuesdays at Rowe’s Wharf and High Street, Wednesdays at Rings Fountain on Milk Street, Thursdays at Chinatown Park, and Fridays at Dewey Square and Congress Street. Follow them on Twitter for updates on locations.
  • Bon Me: This Vietnamese food truck was a winner of the city’s Food Truck Challenge and has a loyal cult following. They’re at Dewey Square Plaza Mondays through Fridays, but check here for additional updates.
  • The Chicken & Rice Guys: Middle Eastern food is a pushcart staple. But this food truck, focused on chicken and lamb gyros, takes it to the next level. Check them out in Chinatown Park on Mondays and Wednesdays; go here for additional info.

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