In the simmering heat of Monday evening's dinner rush, at the parking lot of Craftsman's on East Washington and Lakeville Streets, the Taqueria Santa Cruz taco truck bustled as a line of people waited patiently for their food. Despite the business only being open for a few moments, cars pulled up and people streamed out to wait for the well-known tacos.
As the only permanent, full-fledged food truck operating in town, owner Roy Cabrera enjoys a unique hold on the relatively untapped mobile food purveyor market — something that could soon change as more vendors eye the Petaluma market.
"There's always going to be competition, whether it's restaurants or more food trucks coming to town," said the 26-year-old entrepreneur. "But you can't let it affect what you do. You just have to focus on your business and being a part of the community."
Across the county, food trucks and carts are becoming increasingly popular, thanks to their lower overhead costs and increased flexibility compared to conventional "brick-and-mortar" restaurants. These restaurants-on-wheels serve a variety of food, from hot dogs to tacos. In Petaluma, the desire to come to town is high.
"I get at least one to two calls a week from people wanting to come into town and set up their food trucks at a location," said Joe Garcia, the Petaluma Police Department's code enforcement officer who oversees the licensing of food trucks and carts within city limits.
But just because people want to come to Petaluma and sell their culinary creations from a truck instead of a restaurant, doesn't mean that it's easy to do. When former certified executive chef and Culinary Institute of America educator Brenda Anderson decided to move out of corporate cooking and open her own gourmet food truck in Petaluma, she quickly discovered she was facing a pricey and uphill battle.
"To do it right in this town, you really have to have your stuff together," she said. "It takes a lot of guts, but Petaluma has been very receptive to my ideas and I'm doing it."
Anderson estimates that bringing her gourmet food truck to Petaluma, which she envisions serving a seasonal menu of lunchtime fares including local and organic meats and a variety of Asian and Latin cuisine, is going to cost her upwards of $70,000.
"There's a lot more that goes into it than people think," she said. "You have to get a working truck, get all your permitting, be properly trained and licensed and carry the right insurance policies."
Cabrera said that from the time he started his paperwork to the time he opened, it took a lengthy eight months to complete every step of the process.
"People think you can just get a food truck and start making money," said Cabrera, who began working in Petaluma in 2004 with his uncle, at the young age of 17. "But they don't understand the 18-hour days and the massive amounts of paperwork it takes to do it right."
For those wanting to run their own food truck or cart in Petaluma, Garcia said there are several permits that must be obtained. On top of needing a business license from the city, prospective vendors must also obtain food handler's certification — called ServSafe — from the state and a permit from the county to sell food. They must also obtain a home base restaurant, called a "commissary," where the truck owners can store and clean their equipment.