When It Comes To Business, Stationary is Fair

October 11, 2011

Honor, Political economy


My hometown of Buffalo is renowned for a few local delicacies, the most prominent of which is the chicken wing. Recently, a family friend of mine started a new business in Buffalo, which has become a sensation with locals. The business in question is called Lloyd Taco Truck, the first food truck that has graced the streets of Buffalo. They have had humongous success, despite a few minor setbacks. (The truck itself breaking down=not good.) The most recent of these setbacks, however, is one of a very peculiar nature, and one that any American should truly find preposterous.

Lloyd Taco Truck

Lloyd had a city hall hearing recently that evaluated its “questionable” business practices. What dastardly, manipulative techniques might the masterminds behind Lloyd have been employing? It appears that it would be moving around. A large group of local businesses banded together and started to make complaints to the local government, claiming that Lloyd’s ability to change location and find where crowds of people had gathered qualifies as an unfair business advantage. As far as my research into this has yielded, no ordinance exists in the city of Buffalo that disallows food trucks or mobile businesses of any sort; however, the complaints were apparently made with such volume that the issue was taken into a hearing. Posted here is a video of co-owner Peter Cimino speaking to the Buffalo City Council in defense of his taco truck.

What has happened here, exactly? Where is the American value of freedom of enterprise? Well established, well respected business owners are transformed into insufferable, petulant, tantrum-throwing toddlers because someone else had a good idea. Is this the America that attracted droves of immigrants from Europe in the 1900’s? Is this an America whose streets are paved with gold? No, this is an America whose businesses are driven by greed, whose leaders are so jaded by greed that they can’t recognize and appreciate ingenuity when they see it. Everyone claims to appreciate entrepreneurship. They’ll say  that everyone is entitled to start their own business and make their own way in this country, but the callow minds of Buffalo business leaders painfully highlight the fact that not everyone practices what they preach.

This entire debacle brought to my mind our readings on Tocqueville. He would say that an American’s primary motivation is self-interest (or at least we have ourselves convinced that it is). When I originally read this, I found it to be quite plausible: when we all set out for ourselves, it appears that we can’t help but cause some good, even if unintentionally. However, I’m no longer entirely convinced that this is a good idea. If business leaders can’t handle a small infringement on their profits without going and crying to the powers-that-be, if our self interest engenders pettiness, then perhaps we need a small attitude adjustment.

It’s a dog-eat-dog business world, and the guy with the best idea always wins the day. And as far as good ideas go, the best taco you’ve ever eaten that can move around to wherever you might be sounds like one hell of a good one. Appreciate ingenuity, because it will almost always directly benefit you.

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11 Comments on “When It Comes To Business, Stationary is Fair”

  1. ianbaker2041 Says:

    I really like this idea of mobile trucks. I grew up with ice cream trucks floating around my town, but the idea of moving something of a restaurant around seems pretty awesome, and it offers a competitive advantage. America’s strength derives in part from its innovation, and the business owners complaining of an “unfair advantage” really seem to only be trying to use the government to pass laws limiting the competition-something completely “un-American.”

    I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and say that this idea has probably made a lot of money. That’s probably also why other business owners are complaining: they have a really strong competitor. As you point out, however, this is what America was built upon. To use the government to pass any kind of ordinance banning this food truck would not only be a misuse of the government but would actually harm everyone involved. The citizens and the owners of this truck would be harmed because they wouldn’t get food delivered (more or less), and they wouldn’t be able to make money, respectively. An ordinance against this sort of business would also hurt the complaining business owners because it would limit competition. The point of the capitalist system is that businesses compete for limited customers; the success of one company should be an indicator to other competitors to increase their level of service, not simply turn to the government to give them an “easy out” and end this competition. While the complaining business owners may claim to be helping the community as a whole, this is simply an excuse to limit competition.

    I really hope that no one will support this movement to end the truck’s operation. It’s clearly profitable, and it’s a good idea. Companies like this could make a lot of money in other communities, too, because they’re offering a good service with a premium on convenience. What’s so bad about that?

  2. maryblee Says:

    The Buffalo area business owners are simplifying the issue here. By making it look like the taco truck is cheating its way into the market, they may get knee-jerk reactions from the public (“Oh yeah, cheating is bad”). But I think with a little bit of reflection, it’s clear that there is nothing underhanded about the way Lloyd is doing business. While they do have a competitive advantage by being mobile, they have a lot of disadvantages as well. Their size is crucial to their mobility but it is also limiting to the range and quantity of food they can prepare. I doubt a family of four or a couple looking for a romantic evening would go out for a nice dinner at the taco truck; traditional restaurants would still trump the truck in those cases. Regardless of the advantages or disadvantages of having a taco truck, competition and innovation are the cornerstone of a free-market, and the taco truck doesn’t pose enough of a threat to the overall stability of the market to warrant government intervention.

  3. ndreynolds864 Says:

    Of course other business owners will be angry by the fact that this innovative idea is causing them to lose money. I agree when you say this is America if you don’t have the best idea out there you can’t cry about it and try to order them to stop. This country has been built on competition and if somebody is doing something better then you must adapt your business to be able to keep up with them. I think Tocqueville would agree with this argument because this idea to take food to the road is acting on the self-interest of the individual. However, this idea of self-interest has also caused an adverse effect because the other business owners are taking the self-interest concept too far in the way where it leads to greed. This idea should be heralded not oppressed. If you can’t keep up in the market the market will shut you out that’s life in economics.

    This shouldn’t be seen as an unfair business practice but as the next big thing in the restaurant industry. If this gets more publicity I could definitely see this catching on in other parts of the country. Lloyd’s Taco Truck could be a staple for many cities because of the convenient nature of this business. This is a very consumer friendly idea and most of the time consumer friendly ideas are unfriendly for other producers. I really hope this idea catches on because I know we’ve all been thinking of walking down a street in Ann Arbor to grab a quick taco from the travelling food truck.

  4. zrobbins24 Says:

    The Lloyd Taco Truck food truck idea is not a new one. In fact, the food truck “phenomenon” has been spreading throughout the nation for a few years now. In almost every major city, there are now food trucks. There has even been an entire television series on the Food Network called “The Great Food Truck Race” that is fully devoted to food trucks. The show is about food trucks that travel across the country to different cities trying to make the most money every weekend. You would think that brick and mortar restaurants would not like having the trucks in town, like those in Buffalo. However, none of the restaurants in the cities that the “Race” has travelled to have had any problems with the trucks being there. In fact, some of the restaurants even started their own food trucks to help better promote and make money for their own businesses.

    If the businesses of Buffalo have a problem with the Lloyd Taco Truck, they should be trying to beat the truck in competition over sales. They should not be running to the government to try and get the Lloyd Taco Truck shut down, but perhaps, making their own food trucks for their restaurants. Business is all about competition and the only way to win is to outsmart and generate new ideas to help improve your sales. The Lloyd Taco Truck has done exactly this; they introduced a new way to do business in Buffalo and now the other restaurants are bothered because the Lloyd Taco Truck is “stealing” their customers and sales.

    The Buffalo business owners need to understand that the restaurant business is a free-market and that it is all a competition for sales and customers. If they are getting beat by the Lloyd Taco Truck, then they should be trying to originate new ideas about how to compete against the food truck. Perhaps, like I said, they should have a food truck of their own. Either way, though, if customers had really liked their food before the food truck arrived, the customers will still come back to their restaurants.

  5. Achin Jain Says:

    I want to point out that this idea of a ‘mobile business,’ especially using a truck was also prevalent in Ann Arbor before this semester. ‘Insomnia Cookies’ would move around the campus selling irresistible cookies.

    Particular in America, and mostly in all other developed and developing economies, the concept of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ exists. Survival of the fittest simply means that if a company is not making enough profits to cover its costs, it will soon exit the industry. The only way to survive in this ever-competing world is developing ideas and then materializing on them. That is exactly what Lloyd Taco Truck successfully did before they knew that their idea was an ‘unfair business practice.’ I want to focus on a particular line that the post highlights: “the complaints were apparently made with such volume that the issue was taken into a hearing.” It is obvious that the Buffalo hall council was influenced by interests of business competitors but did not take into account the validity of their appeal. If, as the post says, there was no existent law that disallowed food trucks, then I feel that there is no basis on which hall council can call it as an ‘unfair business’ practice.

    What is troubling here in this scenario is that the influence of business on politics has not only grown at the federal level but also at the local/ state level. This new ‘brand’ of politics, where top businesses and politics converge, is affecting the interests of others in the society such as that of Lloyd Taco Truck. It is true that convergence of businesses and politics does drive economy, however, to what extent should the relationship extend? To the extent of suppressing a powerful idea or to the extent of changing laws for a particular wealthy and powerful group of people?

  6. mfriedlander92 Says:

    I think that this idea is a great idea of a moving truck, because it allows the company to move where the customers are. I don’t think of this as a technique for “cheating the system”, I consider this a very good business tactic that should be praised. I think that when Mjgeis said “This is an America whose leaders are so jaded by greed that they can’t recognize and appreciate ingenuity when they see it,” was a very strong point. Many times people appreciate when people think of new, creative, inventive ideas that can help the company profit by accomodating customers better; however, if this idea ends up hurting other companies then those companies say it is an awful idea that is on the fine line of what is allowed or not (when they are just jealous they didn’t think of it first).

    If Lloyd’s company isn’t allowed to have a moving food truck, then why is it okay for ice cream trucks to drive around and target places that are highly populated with children? This is a complete double-standard and these occur when people are upset with something, but approve of something that is very similar to what they are opposing.

    I think that this is very upsetting that this little company has to go through so much trouble just to keep their taco truck business going. Everyone is so obsessed with self-gain that they can’t appreciate a good idea when they see one because their company didn’t think of it first. There is no reason this should be seen as an “unfair business practice”. I agree with Mjgeis that we need to start appreciating ingenuity and stop being so concerned with personal-gain.

  7. Brian Hall Says:

    I’ve always wondered how icecream trucks manage to stay in business. Sure, they charge exorbitant prices for their products, but especially now that gas is so prohibitively expensive, I’d think they’d have trouble breaking even. The idea of a food truck that does not sell novelty items aimed at children, but rather panders to a larger audience seems more logical to me. The fact that they are making significant profit astounds me nonetheless. I say more power to them. If the restaurants can’t compete, they must be doing something wrong. Seriously, I bet most people would be sketched out by eating meat from a truck vendor. You never know. Personally, I would readily fork over the dough for a taco if I saw one of these trucks in Ann Arbor, but that’s just me.

    One thing I am concerned about is the rise of corporate restaurants and fall of local eating venues. It pains me to see authentic restaurants offering delicious food fall by the wayside as another Olive Garden or Panera rolls into the neighborhood. There’s a part of me that wants desperately to have the Government pass strict ordinance against the mega-corps, but then they provide something that apparently most people want. I can see how some people might be worried that the food trucks will put regular restaurants ut of business, which leads to an interesting question; does the consumer always know what’s best? I suppose it’s pointless to speculate, as different people would have completely different answers in different situations. Personally I’m inclined to say the government should not be involved in consumer preference at all (or minimally), and hope for the best when it comes to peoples’ values.

  8. adamstillman2011 Says:

    I think this situation is very interesting. Food trucks are a growing industry all around the country and have been accepted as legal businesses. I believe that this situation is an example of hypocrisy that extends beyond mobile tacos

    Normally business owners are against government regulation. They are in favor of letting the market run its course and allow the business owner to do what they want. Where were the lawsuits when investment banks began making sub prime mortgages to families who didn’t know the financial danger they were getting themselves into? Isn’t it an unfair business practice to deceive your clients, and give them loans that you know that they are not going to be able to pay for?

    This deception led to the creation of the housing bubble that burst in 2008, which resulted in many foreclosures and billions of dollars in government bailout money. At that time there were no regulations because the heads of the investment banks and the legislature were in favor of the free flowing economy. This lack of regulation caused the problem to happen in the first place. Deceiving clients in a way that ultimately crashes the economy seems like an unfair and detrimental business practice that should be dealt with, not a taco truck that moves around.

  9. jpstern Says:

    I agree that those with the best ideas will come out on top. In this situation the taco truck opened up an entirely new market in Buffalo. People are constantly on the move and allowing the purchase of food in the different locations is an excellent idea. The opposition to this idea is obvious and I see where the local businesses are coming from. According to Tocqueville, humans are motivated by self-interest and according to Hobbes, humans are motivated by fear of death. If you look through the ideas of a cafe owner, he is acting under the principles of both philosophers. The cafe owner doesn’t want his business to lose money or go under. So in that case, I completely understand why the cafe owner would hate the idea of a “moving cafe”. Why would people wait in line at his stationary place, when they could meet their food at their destination? They wouldn’t. So, the taco truck is going to win against the cafe because of convenience. No matter how much opposition it receives, there is nothing that the cafe owner can do because there is nothing wrong with a little competition.

  10. samyoovpolsci Says:

    When i read this post, the first thing that sprang to my mind was the ice cream trucks that always played its happy tunes, enticing every man and child to buy a popsicle stick during the hot summer days. Mobility should not be seen as a an “unfair” advantage but be lauded as a innovative idea. It is understandable that the other cafe and restaurant owners are angry. However, for the “moving truck” business, it does have its own disadvantages in comparison to the more conventional cafe’s. As mentioned in the post, the vehicle IS the main source of business. If the vehicle collapses, so does the business. Hence, comparing the stability of a stationary building to a truck, the advantage is obviously in favor of the cafe/restaurant owners.
    Furthermore, this idea illustrates one of the most fundamental aspect of America- Capitalism. Just like the concept of “law of the jungle” (Rudyard Kipling-Jungle Book), which outlines the idea of every man for himself, this innovation accentuates the importance of competition. Also, through the complaints of the cafe owners to the local council, we can see that more and more people are starting to rely upon the government (albeit local) to settle such matters.
    We should see this innovation as creativity and the owners of other restaurants should find this to be a catalyst/ a wake up call to arm up with what ever they got in their arsenal and come out with something even more creative. Consumers will always try to get the most bang for the buck, hence, this idea of food coming straight to your door cannot be a greater idea in regards to catering food.

  11. kaitlinlapka Says:

    Along with not only having an innovative idea, I want to point out that Lloyd did not do anything new here as well. There have been moving businesses for quite some time. One person even commented with a great example, the American neighborhood staple: the ice cream TRUCK. These business owners are simply jealous and trying to use the law to help them out. I don’t believe they have any legitimate cause though. On what legal principle did the city even pursue this claim? Plus, you’re right… In America, the best idea wins. In a dog eat dog society, it can’t be too long before someone else comes in to try and take Lloyd’s spot.

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