Foot carts, taco trucks and red tape: Guerrilla Grub fights for mobile food

Elizabeth August and her husband don’t call themselves “food truck-ineers,” a term I was very proud to have come up with myself when interviewing August this week. “Actually,” she said, “we have a non-motorized push cart, so even though we’re lumped in with food truckers, we’re really just mobile food vendors.”

August has a reason to be specific: while food trucks and independent food vendors are gaining popularity across the US (there’s even a reality show on television now about food truckers who race around the country, selling their delicious wares), and in California in particular, Oakland has put up barriers of red tape that make it nearly impossible for the food truck culture to proliferate and attract customers.

“The ordinance that exists right now in Oakland has made it so that mobile food vendors can only operate in one district in Oakland — in the Fruitvale district,” August explained. “It only provides a small number of permits for vendors in that small geographical area. So the rest of us, trucks and carts, are not legally permitted to vend on public streets in Oakland except with permission by property owners and in parking lots, or at special events like Eat Real and street fairs.”

August said that this has created a “cultural separation of food” inside Oakland, as other food vendors who serve different types of dishes can’t go outside of their neighborhood. “They can’t bring their food to us, in other parts of Oakland, and we can’t bring our food to them.”

That’s why August has set up her refurbished one-time hot dog cart she found on Craigslist, calling her business Guerrilla Grub. The cart is more compact, mobile and easier to maintain than a food truck while Oakland sorts out its mobile food bureaucracy.

Selling “California comfort food,” she and her husband sell classic but modified dishes like pulled pork, beef brisket and pulled-tofu sandwiches, sloppy joes (meaty and vegan), veggies, quinoa, and gluten-free mac and cheese.

As the East Bay Express reported recently, August, who is with the Oakland Mobile Food Group, has been battling Oakland city hall along with other food vendors to relax the red tape around mobile food vendors and expand the realm of DIY entrepreneurship that adds to the dynamic cross-culturalism of the city.

August and members of the Oakland Mobile Food Group are putting pressure on the city — they gathered more than 500 signatures on a petition at the Eat Real festival that will be submitted to the city council. She’s hopeful that mobile food vendors will be able to grow their businesses and introduce Oakland’s children and adults to excellent, delicious, mobile food.

Check out Elizabeth August, her Guerrilla Grub push-cart, these Oakland Mobile Food Group members in the new Food Truck Stop at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire:

You can follow Guerrilla Grub on Twitter, to see where the cart shows up next.  But don’t miss the chance to come support their efforts in person, at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire!

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