Wednesday’s setting was festive – like an old-fashioned parish fair – at the bi-monthly Holy Trinity Catholic School food truck fundraiser in the parking lot of St. Rose of Lima Church along the river. sixth avenue in Eldorado.
Doug Rhodes of Doug’s Dogs was one of a dozen vendors, enjoying his interactions with customers.
Rhodes isn’t worried about the city council’s recent discussions on regulating food trucks, which have proliferated in Altoona since restaurants closed due to COVID-19, but he believes the regulation is likely unnecessary.
Julie Johnson of the Ice House Cafe food truck is more definitive.
“I don’t see the need for it” Johnson said. “I think it’s a bit of a government overtaking.”
Holy Trinity requires liability insurance and a food safety certificate from the state Department of Agriculture, but otherwise vendors “Self-regulate” As part of running Holy Trinity, said Alicia Lombardo, president of the school’s parent-teacher organization and food truck events coordinator.
The city’s proposed regulations are likely evolving, but according to an initial draft ordinance, the bans – which might not apply to ice cream or popsicle trucks – could include: operating during certain hours; operating within 50 feet of a residential building and 500 feet of a restaurant; park in a
place of operation at night or in the absence of any presence; and operating on
Council members expressed various concerns.
Time restrictions, restrictions on proximity to restaurants and the ban on operating on private property should be removed, according to City Councilor Joe Carper.
Restricting restaurants would eliminate Heritage Plaza events for vendors, board members observed.
Restricting private ownership would – presumably – eliminate events in St. Rose, as well as food trucks at regular parish festivals, art festivals and wedding receptions.
“I don’t want to spoil Sainte-Rose,” said City Councilor Dave Butterbaugh. “My concern is the law of unintended consequences. “
Her own daughter had a food truck at her wedding reception, Butterbaugh added.
The Council is not likely to take action on this in the immediate future, said Rebecca Brown, director of codes and inspections.
Limitation of proximity to restaurants “logic,” Rhodes said.
But he and most of the other vendors are already “respectful” of restaurants and wouldn’t park close enough to compete, he said.
“Do to others,” he said.
Conversely, food trucks near a restaurant could actually help the restaurant, especially if the truck had additional offerings to the restaurant, he said.
After all, many restaurants do particularly well in areas where they are close to each other, such as the South Side of Pittsburgh, he said.
“Food brings food” he said.
Rhodes and most of the other vendors do not want to move to residential areas, if only for the need of a “High concentration of people” – as it’s typically found in business, Rhodes said.
He wouldn’t mind if the city checked the required food safety certificates – although he wouldn’t like having to pay a fee for that, he said.
Regulatory action by the city would reduce the “The freedom to appear anywhere” which she currently enjoys, said Johnson, who lives in Clearfield County and has a full-time job outside of his food truck.
Addition of city regulations to the “Hoops” operators already have to negotiate could reduce what she understands to be the low profit margin they maintain by about 5 percent, Lombardo said.
It could “Destroy their economic model”, she said.
“There are a lot of tentacles to this”, Rhodes said.
“I hope there is nothing too restrictive” Matt Halerz, a client of Wednesday’s event, said of the proposed settlement.
Safe and fun place
According to Lombardo, Holy Trinity kicked off the food truck event last July as a safe weekly alternative to the fundraisers that COVID-19 had wiped out.
It operated weekly until October.
Between 300 and 400 people often came, Lombardo said.
This year, the school organizes the event every two weeks.
There was a side event at St. Mary’s in Altoona during the off-peak weeks.
The food has been good and the vendors never leave rubbish, said Cathy Damiano, principal of Holy Trinity Elementary School.
“It was awesome,” Damien said.
Lombardo began by contacting Rhodes, a friend.
After that there was “a domino effect” she said.
He and Lombardo worked together at the Mishler Theater, Rhodes said.
He was a musical director of shows – he’s a classical pianist – and she was a choreographer, he said.
The regularity and predictability of events in St. Rose has been a boon to him as he knows what to buy and how to handle – although the weather can be an issue, Rhodes said.
“It’s pretty hard to beat” he said, as he scratched his grill around closing time Wednesday.
While he was able to connect with people through music, he was also able to connect with them through his food truck business, often coming to give to customers “Doug hugs,” he said.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has brought these to an end, he added.
Now he has to do it “with words,” he said.
Johnson takes his truck to auto shows and other daytime events.
“I have a passion for doing festivals and stuff,” she said. “I love the energy and the people – meeting new people, talking to people, providing a service that makes people happy.”
Halerz and Lindsay French went to St. Rose on Wednesday with their 1 year old daughter, Nolan.
“Something to do to get out” Halerz said. This made a “Pleasant and calm afternoon” he said.
Joel Bobetich and his family – as well as his parents – were rushing.
This meant not having to make any meals, plus a chance to “hang out,” said Bobetich, who attended school in St. Rose years ago.
Michael Thomas and Heather Dosh, who have been best friends since their childhood 28 years ago, were in a group of a dozen.
Thomas got crushed ice from Julie Johnson.
“Cold in summer” Dosh said.
It’s not just a fundraiser, but “Community awareness”, Damien said.
Mirror staff writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.