A couple of weeks ago, a new sheriff rode into town: Eric Flack, WAVE-3 “Troubleshooter.” Mr. Flack spent most of an afternoon (at least!) gathering the information for a regular exposé on the seedy underbelly of local food truck sanitation practices. The shocking footage was shot at multiple locations including a three-tub wash station at a temporarily licensed mobile vendor — not an actual food truck with a permanent annual certification. Again, this was not a food truck; it was a guy with a two-week temporary permit, a travel trailer and a canopy tent.
Then there was footage of another guy who does run an actual food truck — Rob Ross of French Indo Canada (a statewide annual permit holder). Sheriff Flack managed to get Ross on tape (to be fair, it didn’t seem like any arms were twisted) discussing the expensive three-compartment sink system that the Metro Health and Wellness Department requires every annually-certified mobile food vendor to have installed. “No one around here uses the triple sink,” he blathered into the camera, casually twirling his finger to include the known universe. Gee, Rob — way to speak for everybody!
In a thoughtful response to Flack’s piece penned by Liz Huot of Grind Gourmet Burger Truck, Huot revealed that Ross doesn’t necessarily represent every food truck in town. “I make no excuses for anyone,” she said, “but if you’ve ever spoken to Rob for longer than five minutes, you know he is just not always very well-spoken.” She went on to explain patiently that food trucks do, in fact, use their very expensive, mandatory, three-compartment sink systems (“I mean, why wouldn’t we?”). These sink systems require plans and installation by a licensed master plumber, more than a $2,000 investment.
Finally, the ol’ Troubleshooter interviewed a nice lady at the Metro Department of Health and Wellness, Chief Health Inspector Connie Mendel. “We feel you can operate safer from an actual building,” she said. If that’s true, then, as Huot pointed out in her response, why in the world is the Metro Health Department issuing these annual permits at all? Flack went on to ask Mendel if she ever ate from food trucks. “No,” she said, sharing a chortle with Flack and his camera crew. “That’s funny.”
Oddly, Mendel’s own department admits it has no record of a food-borne illness ever reported or confirmed in association with a permanent food truck. Ever. I’m sure the same can’t be said of all brick-and-mortar operations within the Metro area.
The Troubleshooter’s piece was perceived as massively one-sided and unfair by food-truck owners and fans alike, and so, after an outcry, including Huot’s response, a follow-up Troubleshootin’ was promised by WAVE-3. Now, you’d think — or, I did, anyway — a “follow-up” might at least pay lip service to a different point of view. Maybe interview food-truck owners and operators who do things right? The ones who use their expensive sink systems in compliance with regulations, you know, hey, like Liz Huot from Grind Gourmet Burgers? She offered. They didn’t take her up on her offer, though.
The follow-up was basically Metro Councilman Kevin Kramer ’splaining that you food truck kids are gonna get it and how, see — soon we’re gonna make you post a letter-grade placard like good decent restaurants have to!
Please, please throw us in this briar patch, Councilman Kramer! Hardworking, meticulous food-truck operators who have invested thousands of dollars and hours of time have always been for this. It will help put them on an even playing field with brick-and-mortar joints so far as public perception of cleanliness goes, using a health rating system many/most customers already understand how to interpret.
And for those delicate flowers who — as a guy I know put it on a local message board — don’t “do” food trucks, I pity you. You, with your lifelong moratorium on pork chop sandwiches from the state fair midway, funnel cakes and shake-up lemonade at Thunder Over Louisville, hot dogs at a Bats game, tasting portions at chili and barbecue competitions — I feel bad you’ve never been able to experience any of those things. Oh, wait, you say you have done those things, but food trucks are just beyond the pale? Hmmm. You don’t say!
Just make sure Aunt Mae’s deviled eggs are strictly up to temperature regulations at the family reunion later this summer. Heavens to Betsey! Paging Sheriff Flack …
Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s and many more.