At least two restaurant owners downtown are ticked off at the Downtown Little Rock Partnership for its sponsorship of Food Truck Fridays, which they say will hurt their business on what are normally their busiest days.
Eric Tinner, who owns Sufficient Grounds locations along Capitol Avenue, and Matt Lile, owner of Lulav, are blaming the partnership for a big dip in business last Friday, the first Food Truck Friday at Capitol and Main. Lile said his business was down 31 percent from the previous Friday, and “I really believe [the food trucks] are directly responsible.” Tinner said his business declined from the previous Friday at both his Sufficient Grounds locations (one at Union Plaza, close by the food trucks, and the other in the Metropolitan Bank building at 5th and Broadway) and that a survey he made of nearby restaurants showed a big drop in customers — U.S. Pizza by 30 percent and a Subway three blocks away down 23 percent.
“It’s disappointing to see a group like the partnership … support direct competition,” Tinner said. “It’s hard for me to stomach the fact that my dues are going to this [project] that hurts my business.”
Tinner said the food trucks “come in, cherry pick our business at the peak time of day and week and they leave … what do they leave besides trash?” Unlike the mobile trucks, Lulav’s Lile noted that he’d invested time and money in fixing up a dilapidated building on Sixth Street for his business, a move that has helped downtown.
Both business owners were irked that food trucks aren’t regulated as strictly as restaurants, whose kitchens must submit to several inspections yearly by the state Health Department.
DLRP head Sharon Priest believes things will even out in the next two months as overflow customers, people who do not regularly dine out downtown, head to the brick and mortar restaurants. She said the DLRP has offered to print for restaurants fliers that tout discounts at the restaurants for distribution at the food truck site. But Lile said offering discounts to lure business away from the food trucks “frankly hurts us too.”
Priest noted that there are “roughly” 10,000 people who work within a few blocks of the food truck area “who are looking for lunch at the same time.” She said she considers the food truck project — which she said was designed to bring new people to Main Street — a trial. The DLRP has contracted with the Metropolitan Housing Alliance (Little Rock’s Housing Authority) Fridays through June for use of the block where the three food trucks set up. Tomorrow’s trucks include Royal Kabob, The Food Truck and an as-yet-undetermined third vendor; hours are 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.