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Ocean Park Businesses Compete With Food Trucks in Santa Monica

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

August 4, 2015 -- It's just before noon, and customers soon will be streaming into Ocean Park Pizza on Santa Monica’s Ocean Park Boulevard, a stretch of storefronts and office parks that includes both small and large businesses.

That’s a good customer base for the pizza shop, which has been at 2819 Ocean Park Boulevard for 27 years. The problem is the dozen or so food trucks idling just around the corner on this Monday, as they do on many business days.

They are tucked into the metered parking lot off the Santa Monica Business Park, creating a food-court-on-wheels just steps away for hungry workers.

“They killing us,” said Gary Wallack, who also owns the Bookmark Café at the Main Library and has watched with frustration as his pizza business has declined on the boulevard.

Ocean Park Pizza gets rave reviews for its menu, which includes a variety of items beyond pizza, and its service to customers. But Wallack said it is still struggling to compete with all the food trucks so near his doors.

For a while, some trucks even parked in front of the pizza shop before they relocated to their present site off 31st Street, Wallack said.

 “I’ve got my regulars and people who rely on quality,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist. You don’t get that at one of those – what do they call them? – roach trucks.”

Wallack's plight is similar to that of other brick-and-mortar eateries that have watched their business diminish with the widening popularity of food trucks. Patrons are attracted to generally lower prices and convenience, and increasingly inventive menus, of the eateries on wheels, those who eat there said.

Monday’s line up at the Santa Monica Business Park included a wide variety of offerings, from basic pizza to gourmet Asian fusion dishes and fare advertised as organic and locally grown. For Ocean Park Pizza and some of its neighboring restaurants, such as Zabies, the growing popularity of food trucks has posed ongoing headaches.

Restaurant owners note that it isn’t an altogether level playing field. Food trucks don’t pay the big bills associated with brick-and-mortar restaurants, including, rent, upkeep, insurance and utilities.

“It’s all an impact,” said one Ocean Park Boulevard business owner.

Paul Foley, principal planner for the City of Santa Monica, said he wasn’t aware of any current complaints or problems associated with Ocean Park Boulevard merchants. Although food trucks need business licenses, the City does not in generally regulate them in public right-of-ways, he said.

State law does not require special permits for those businesses to operate.  “They just need to meet the parking requirements,” Foley said.

Meanwhile, over at the food-truck court, workers say they are unaware of causing any hardship to their brick-and-mortar counterparts.  One worker said he didn’t consider Ocean Boulevard much competition.

Another said he didn’t think they have much impact on nearby restaurants.

“We’re only here two hours a day,” said Ryan Walter, staffing the order window at Holy Aioli, where visitors can choose hamburgers that feature chipotle and aioli or just, for example, aioli and mixed greens.

He said the truck usually sets up shop in areas where it wouldn’t compete with neighboring restaurants.

“We go to places where there aren’t any other options,” Walter said. “We don’t want to hurt the economy.”

At any rate, business isn’t particularly booming at the 31st Street site, he said. The reason is that there are so many trucks at that location.

“They all follow each other,” he said.

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