In a cosmopolitan city filled with foodies, Laurent Katgely thought it was unfortunate that the street-food scene in San Francisco was limited to taco trucks and hot dog stands.
So in May, the owner of Chez Spencer joined the fast-growing mobile-food movement and opened a French food truck on Seventh Street, selling small bites of escargot dipped in butter and other menu items for cheap.
If there is any upshot to this recession, restaurant owners said, it’s that it has rapidly changed the landscape of street food from greasy eats to more sophisticated gourmet foods. It’s a low-risk venture, costing the average food vendor $20,000 to start.
“It exploded after the recession,” Katgely said of the street-food scene. “People don’t have money to spend at a restaurant, but [on mobile trucks], they can have the same thing, but they don’t have to spend that much.”
According to roaminghunger.com, a San Francisco-based Web site that tracks the movement of the local street vendors, there are now more than 58 mobile food vendors in San Francisco. They are planted in neighborhoods all over The City and the Peninsula, offering a variety of epicurean edibles, including gumbo, waffles, curry and cupcakes.
“It’s a trend,” said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, director of the Office of Small Business for San Francisco. “Many individuals in this economy are looking at it as an affordable way of starting their own business.”
These are exactly the type of microentrepreneurs city officials say will thrive in a compact, pedestrian-dominated city such as San Francisco. Many of these food vendors, which are supposed to get permits through The City, are first-time business owners who like food and cooking as a hobby. City officials are looking at new laws to help foster a more dynamic and successful street-food scene. One option under consideration, Dick-Endrizzi said, is creating specific food-market districts within The City.
“This is a viable business enterprise — one that we want to cultivate a bit,’” Dick-Endrizzi said.
Meanwhile, locals can find out the daily menu on roaminghunger.com, a Web site San Francisco resident Ross Resnick launched last month in response to the proliferation of food vendors.
“It’s exciting,” Resnick said. “People like the adventure of seeking out food and finding new vendors out and about.”