How the University of Houston Became Home of the Food Trucks

Categories: Spaced City

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Komron Kasnavia
Students Lining up for Bare Bowls at the University of Houston.
Phi Nguyen, a University of Houston alumni who had recently started his own food truck business, The Waffle Bus, after spending a year unemployed, found himself right back at his alma mater last spring when the school's University Center was closed for reconstruction. Little did he know that he was about to become part of something truly special.

"I read an article in the Daily Cougar [UH's student newspaper] that the UC was going to be renovated in the summer; we had only been open for a few weeks at the time. I e-mailed some of the representatives at U of H, so they came out to try our food while we were parked at the Museum of Fine Arts and they liked it," he said with a faint grin.

At the time Phi was the first person to reach out to the University about filling the void left by the reconstruction of the University Center, a central hub of student interaction as well as food. Today the University of Houston serves as the proverbial land of milk and honey for food-truck entrepreneurs like Nguyen, who are unable to congregate elsewhere in the city due to a city ordinance preventing food trucks from operating within 60 feet of each other.

Which makes the food trucks stationed right next to each other at UH, providing students with an array of unique, creative food offerings to choose from, an anomaly.



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Komron Kasnavia
Chicken and Waffles from The Waffle Bus

According to Nyguen, "The University is not technically part of the city; it's actually owned by the state and therefore not subject to the same laws as the rest of the city."

Not to mention that "there's more foot traffic here than anywhere in the city, and the students love food trucks!"

The contracts between the food trucks and UH expire in December, the expected date for the completion of the UC reconstruction. After that, Food Truck Heaven will close, and students will be limited to the franchises in the UC such as Panda Express, Chick-fil-A and McDonald's.

The trucks could potentially be subjected to exile in the purgatory that is Houston, and students would have to venture outside the city limits to find a place where food trucks thrive, side by side, and everyone can find something distinctive to pique their feeding fancy.

Which begs the questions, why the hell does Houston hate food trucks? and if they are able to stay at UH, will they be able to sustain business?

Umm, we couldn't actually figure out the answers to either of those questions. However, not to worry, food truckers and students, you are in luck, because the University of Houston happens to be a place that encourages entrepreneurship and welcomes diversity.

Esmeralda Valdez, executive director of auxiliary services, tells Hair Balls, "The introduction of food trucks to our campus is part of the overall strategic food service program. Once the UC opens, the food trucks may move to more underserved areas of campus, but those details are still to be determined. At the end of the day, healthy competition and continued support of the city's local entrepreneurs through the food truck program is very important and valuable to all of us."

In spring 2014, the new UC will get a Cougar Xpress Mini Market on the first floor and a Starbucks on the underground level. However, for those who yearn to patronize one of the food trucks that include Phi's Waffle Bus, Bernie's Burger Bus, Bare Bowl's Kitchen, Coreano's, Kurbside Eatz, Stick It and The Rice Box, they will still be around.

When I walk down South Congress in Austin and see an entire street littered with entrepreneurs like Nguyen working hard, preparing an array of hand-cooked meals to satisfy a diverse set of taste buds, I feel like I'm in America. We have the unique privilege of being able to eat foods from all diverse sets of cultures while interacting directly with the individuals who make a living preparing those meals.

Why the City of Houston would want to stand in the way of that is beyond me, and therefore I have no choice but to conclude that Houston hates food trucks. Embrace the melting pot, embrace food trucks.

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University of Houston

4800 Cullen Blvd., Houston, TX

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12 comments
golyadkin
golyadkin

The 60' limit, as well as the other restrictions on food trucks were all put in place well before the recent food truck boom. All of the ordinances, in essence, we put in entirely with construction site taco trucks in mind (people didn't want them downtown, or too many of them crowding a road around an already crowded construction site, etc). There's already a major push underway, with large and growing support, to fix these restrictions, and I doubt the current rules will exist for more than another year or two at most.

yute
yute

First sentence: 'alumnus' is the singular; 'alumni' is plural.

sockial
sockial

The city must end the 60' ordinance against food trucks ASAP!

sockial
sockial

The city needs to end this 60' ordinance ASAP.  That's crazy!

WestSideBob
WestSideBob topcommenter

Rice is also hosting food trux on campus.  

I don't have much of a taste for Austin, but I do admire their ability to put politico payola behind them and allow trux access to the public downtown.  Do Houston politicos have to disclose their revenue streams?  Twould be interesting to see the exact folks funding the ban in Hton.

etee56
etee56

 The CoH doesn't hate food trucks, per se - however, it would appear that those with the most to lose (established restaurants and other eateries) are doing a lot of lobbying (both openly and behind the scenes) in order to maintain the status quo.

Oh, yes, and there is always that odd Councilcritter who feels that AQ operatives will 'jack all the food trucks and use the propane tanks they have to create a massive, city-killing fireball akin to that meteor(ite) that hit Russia last week. Because TERRORISM IS SCARY.

comstone
comstone

Also a testament to how good food is valued by anyone, even with eventual access to corporate fare. The design for the new UC has only corporate food available -- nothing unique to Houston or the city's university. Once the new UC is open, students and staff will be subjected to the same stale grease smell of the corporate fast food with no connection to the city. These food trucks demonstrate that local food is good, tasty, popular, and a strong economic model -- all of which are ignored in the University's corporate mentality.

KomronKasnavia
KomronKasnavia

@WestSideBob Exactly, that's the larger take away. What happened to "for the people, by the people?" We allow the Wal-Marts to drive out mom and pop shops, and we should, since the concept of a free market is what this nation was built on after all, but why then do we protect chain restaurants from the food trucks? It's clear the people enjoy the food trucks, why not give them what they want?

Craigley
Craigley

@etee56established restaurants and other eateries need not worry - food trucks are SCUZZY and NASTY!

comstone
comstone

@Craigley @comstone A poor representation of the diversity of food in Houston, and even a poor representation of the real Kim Son restaurants on a good day. Anyone who knows Vietnamese food in Houston knows that Kim Son is fair, not great.

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