On a healthy roll
Food trucks line up to join pilot program in Brookline, with menus matching town’s requirements for wholesome fare
When Brookline designed a pilot program to license food trucks for the first time this spring, local officials carefully crafted a ranking system giving preference to vendors offering nutritious and locally sourced ingredients instead of unhealthy options.
But when nine vendors recently applied for the chance to serve up their fare in Brookline, not one included hot dogs or fried dough on the menu.
Instead, food trucks like Momogoose and Paris Creperie were offering fresh salads, tofu rolls, and savory crêpes made from gluten-free buckwheat batter.
“The industry has changed,’’ said Brookline’s public health director, Alan Balsam. “I mean, we’re not talking about the sausage guy outside of Fenway here.’’
By opening the door to food trucks, selectmen have decided to at least temporarily jump on a fad that has been gaining speed in Greater Boston.
Last year, Boston approved 26 additional sites for food trucks, and Cambridge launched a program allowing food trucks at some parks along the Charles River. And nearly 50 vendors are expected to take part in a Food Truck Festival series starting in May and slated to reach Framingham in October.
Some of the vendors have been itching to roll into Brookline, where the Board of Selectmen is backing a six-month trial program this spring and summer allowing food trucks at certain spots around town, according to chairwoman Betsy DeWitt.
“The notion was that food trucks bring a kind of variety, and increased foot traffic and vitality maybe to an area that is underserved,’’ DeWitt said.
In keeping with local values, such as a ban on trans fats in restaurants and bakeries, DeWitt said the town also thought it was important to emphasize that nutritious food would be the preferred fare from food trucks.
Balsam said the proposed menus are being reviewed, but after a first glance he doubts any of the nine vendors will fail to meet local nutrition standards. Town staff members are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss recommendations to selectmen, who will make the final call on which vendors will be licensed.
Not everyone is enamored with the idea of food trucks rolling into Brookline, however.
Joe Rastellini, the owner of a Commonwealth Avenue restaurant, T. Anthony’s, since 1976, said he doesn’t know what started the food truck “craze,’’ but it could hurt brick and mortar establishments.
Rastellini said he pays property taxes for his restaurant, and other eateries struggle to pay high rents that food trucks don’t have.
“I just think it’s a little unfair competition,’’ he said.
Stanley Spiegel, a Town Meeting member, said he also objects to food trucks occupying parking spaces or doing business near residences at some proposed locations, such as the corner of John and Pleasant streets.
Spiegel said that depending on how the pilot program works, he might submit an article to Town Meeting in the fall seeking to put the brakes on food trucks.
Selectmen have approved 10 potential locations where the food trucks can park, and Balsam said officials will proceed cautiously with the program, because the town doesn’t want to hurt business at established restaurants.
They were very careful not to have food truck locations “in the middle of Coolidge Corner or Brookline Village,’’ Balsam said.
Kara Brewton, Brookline’s economic development director, said officials turned down a proposed food truck site at Babcock Street and Commonwealth Avenue after Rastellini complained it would be too close to local restaurants.
However, after gathering input from food truck vendors, Brewton said, the town is keeping other options on the table, such as allowing clusters of more than one food truck at several locations.
Loc Vo, a co-owner of the Vietnamese food truck Momogoose, said one reason he’s looking to do business in Brookline is that the town, unlike Boston, will also allow some vendors to return to the same spot five days a week. Returning daily will help the food trucks invest in the communities they are serving, he said.
“What we really like about Brookline is that they are pioneering and thinking outside the box,’’ Vo said.
For other vendors, such as Bon Me food truck owner Patrick Lynch, the lure of Brookline is closer to home. Lynch, who is 32, said he and his wife grew up in Brookline, and they are looking to expand their food truck business, which already operates in Boston, with a second truck in their old hometown.
Lynch said his food truck already tries to use locally grown food when possible, but finding affordable local ingredients can be challenging for smaller businesses that don’t have as much purchasing power.
As his company grows, Lynch said, he expects it will be able to buy more local ingredients.
Vo said Momogoose has been serving customers in Kendall Square in Cambridge for about 20 years, and also operates in Boston. He said his food truck’s fare is well suited for Brookline’s emphasis on nutrition and using local ingredients.
About half of the Momogoose menu is vegan, Vo said, and the business is always trying to find local food sources.
DeWitt said the Board of Selectmen will vote on which food trucks will be licensed, and where they will be allowed to operate for the pilot program next month, once a task force has made its recommendations and a public hearing has been held.
She said the town will be monitoring the success of the program by gathering feedback from vendors, consumers, and the neighborhoods where food trucks are parked.
“Personally, I’m not going to run to try a food truck just because it’s there,’’ DeWitt said.
“On the other hand, if a food truck happens to be offering something that isn’t available otherwise, it might be interesting.’’
Brock Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.