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Residents, Restaurant Owners and City Chew Over Details of New Food Truck

By the end of Wednesday's meeting, everyone seemed to have a clearer understanding of how a Go Fish! food truck would fit into the neighborhood.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Saturday, July 30 at 12:30 a.m. to reflect newly supplied information from the Mayor's office.

Food trucks are cropping up all over Boston, eliciting largely positive reactions from hungry, on-the-go consumers, while garnering equally nervous ones from area restaurant owners.

Charlestown residents, public officers and the owner of Go Fish! Mobile Food Truck met on Wednesday to discuss the controversial opening of a food truck in the Navy Yard.

Neighborhood liaison Danielle Valle Fitzgerald arranged the meeting at the after the took many neighbors and restaurant owners by surprise. People were further puzzled after Wednesday, July 13, when the city had announced it would be there.

Now the truck’s hours and location are clear: Go Fish! serves lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the intersection of 5th Street and 1st Avenue in the Navy Yard.

Still, it might take time for neighbors to come to terms with the new business in town.

Janet Knott, the chief of staff to City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, attempted to assuage wariness toward the truck.

“Having a food truck in the Yard, even though it showed up unannounced, is a good thing,” she said.

Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard presented locals’ concerns

Michael Parker, who presides over the Friends of the Charlestown Navy Yard, said that the city’s process of opening the Navy Yard to a food truck felt like a “stealth mission.” He said members of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council had complained that no member of the mayor’s food truck committee had ever presented them with a plan.  

“Usually in Charlestown, a sparrow doesn’t drop without the CNC getting involved,” he said.

City officials at the meeting said they told restaurant owners within 100 feet of the truck site about the new business, in accordance with an ordinance. But residents criticized the city for not explicitly telling restaurants throughout the entire Navy Yard what was happening.  

Knott apologized on behalf of the city for not better notifying the council and nearby restaurants about Go Fish! 

Some worry that the truck will damage restaurant business in the Navy Yard 

One man at the meeting said that food trucks would jeopardize business for restaurants in the Navy Yard, a concern that Parker said several restaurant owners shared.

“If you have people buying sandwiches at City Hall, they’re not buying sandwiches somewhere else,” the man said, referring to the food trucks that operate in the plaza.

He said that while Go Fish! operates in a highly trafficked area of the Navy Yard, visitors might not know where to find 'tucked-away' restaurants, especially because there are no signs pointing toward them. Therefore, he said it’s more likely for tourists and others to “impulse buy” at the truck.

“We need to have our local businesses on a level playing field,” he said.

Meanwhile, Rafael Carbonell, who works in the city’s Office of Business Development and sits on the mayor’s Food Truck Committee, said he thinks the trucks would complement surrounding restaurants. He added that according to rules laid out by the city, food trucks couldn’t compete with restaurants by serving the same meals.

In spite of that rule, Parker said that some of the food that Go Fish! sells appears on the menu at Tavern on the Water, one of the several restaurants that he said didn’t know about the opening of the truck.

But Go Fish! owner David Stein said that while his truck and the restaurant both serve seafood, the sit-down experience at Tavern on the Water differed from the on-street take-out one at his establishment.

“The last thing I want to do is negatively impact somebody developing a restaurant,” said Stein, who said he had owned a restaurant for some 30 years.

“But a little competition, if it brings attention to an area, it can have a benefit by bringing people to a neighborhood,” he added.

Officials say city doesn’t give financial breaks to food truck owners

Parker said that restaurant owners believed that the city was subsidizing the cost of opening food trucks, but both a member of the food committee and Stein guaranteed otherwise.

Edith Murnane, the city’s Director of Food Initiatives, told the audience that it costs food truck owners more money to get permits and licenses than it does restaurant owners.

Murnane estimated that food truck owners in Boston would pay approximately $54,000 each year to park on public property and comply with the rules for managing a truck. Later, she shed additional light on what, exactly, the projected sum refers to.

"The $54,000 is an estimate for what it might cost a food truck operator to do business," Murnane said. "And, as I outlined in the meeting, it includes: permitting, gps and an estimate on the rent or monthly payments associated with owning or renting a food truck," she said, noting that the numbers are based on an estimate that food trucks can cost between $50,000 - $100,000 to purchase.

"The money also covers the licensing fee for a 'tier-1' location such as Charlestown and an estimate on what it might cost to rent commissary space to service the food truck," she added.

Stein said that by the time his permit expires at the end of December, he will have paid the city about $10,000 to serve lunch three times a week in Charlestown and four times a week in the Christian Science Center.

“I can tell you that the city has in no way subsidized my truck,” Stein said.  

Parker thanked Stein for clearing up the myth.

After he finished taking questions from the audience, Parker gave a short speech, saying he didn't want to "stamp out entrepreneurial spirit."

He suggested that the group meet again sometime early next year to evaluate the effect Go Fish! will have had on the neighborhood.

Amy August 04, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Charlestown business owners are so worried about their foot traffic, but have they stopped to consider all the increased traffic that having MORE businesses in the area would bring? Note that studies have shown that local coffee shops thrive when Starbucks opens across the street, because people start to associate an area with coffee...the Navy Yard would be well-served if people from other parts of the city were to start thinking about it as a place where one can find multiple waterfront or otherwise scenic dining opportunities. Do you think the owners of Legal, Remy's the mexican place or the steakhouse are complaining that one is stealing the other's business? No, all those places are slammed nightly, with 2-hour waits because people associate that block with dining! All the neighborhood council is good for is stepping on progress (remember the bike lanes?). Charlestown is poisonous to entrepreneurial endeavors because of CNC stonewalling. Perhaps we should all be content to eat all our meals at Friendly's.
Joseph August 04, 2011 at 09:19 PM
I agree with Amy. CNC is against all forward progress in Charlestown...unless they get "paid" in some sort of fashion. I scoff at the fact that they are representing the common good for the residents of Charlestown. Just re-read what Michael Parker is quoted as saying...that should wake everyone up!! Just curious, what businesses in the Navy Yard will be jeopardized? Tavern on the Water? The food is horrible. The staff are even worse. And the place smells horribly!! Why do you think it’s always empty? Friends of the Navy Yard now want to blame the food trucks. Pure comedy. Back to businesses - Navy Yard Bistro - I highly doubt the food trucks are competing with them. Top notch place!! They aren’t losing customers to food trucks. So, what other businesses are we talking about? More businesses attract more people…that’s the bottom line. Wake up haters!
Christina October 03, 2011 at 02:51 PM
There are such limited dining options in Charlestown, it would be a shame to lose this opportunity to expand what Charlestown has to offer visitors or even people considering moving to the neighborhood. It is too bad that the Seaport has just taken off in an all out sprint for success, while Charlestown sort of strolls along with the same old same old. I have had better food at each and every food truck in Gov Center than I'll ever expect to have at Tavern on the Water- A little competition might do that poor excuse for a restaurant some GOOD! Food trucks boost consumer confidence because they offer affordable options for a quick bite while out and about. I'm not going to choose Navy Yard Bistro if I'm out walking my dog on a Saturday afternoon. Sorry. They are totally different markets. Charlestown needs to allow more businesses to open up shop so places like Tavern on the Water cant just exist in perpetual mediocrity.
Jimmy G. October 03, 2011 at 08:11 PM
Funny One week you guys dont want anything down the Navy Yard...Heck i even remember When they wanted to Change the Name to East or West Charlestown Something stupid like that .... I even think some folks wanted to close the gates at a certain time and require an ID to prove you lived down there to get in.....Now you guys want more more more stuff and food trucks ...Every Few years as the crowds change the needs change down there...This years its this next year it will be who knows what ...That's why it takes for ever to get stuff done down there. The clientele changes as the breeze blows.

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