Editor's Note: St. Louis is still coming to grips with the food-truck movement. The following article is one example of a road that, for food trucks at least, has had more than its share of potholes.
Located south of Interstate 64/40, the Nestlé Purina campus is just far enough from the heart of downtown to be off the radar when the city's food-truck population exploded last year. Groups of Nestlé Purina employees walked from their headquarters at Chouteau and Ninth Street to the trucks parked at Eighth and Market to patronize mobile vendors like Cha Cha Chow and Pi on the Spot.
Seeing an underserved market, the trucks soon flocked to the street parking spaces on Chouteau in front of Nestlé Purina's tower, often two or three at a time with lines stretching down the sidewalk. And no wonder: The only neighboring restaurants are the tiny Eat-Rite Diner and three fast-food outposts. On campus, Nestlé Purina owns a cafeteria operated by Syracuse, NY-based American Food and Vending.The company also sells Nestlé-made Lean Cuisine and Stouffer's dinners, as well as Hot Pockets in its employee store that can be microwaved in the break rooms.
"I think the food trucks provide a huge convenience that allow me to get a diverse mix of delicious food curbside and eat it while I work, rather than wasting extra time and money by going out to a restaurant every day," said a Nestlé Purina employee who asked to remain anonymous.
Jeff Pupillo, co-owner of Sarah's Cake Stop and co-founder of the St. Louis Food Truck Association, said, "On Wedensday, the food trucks got an email asking us to no longer operate at Purina." The email came from the St. Louis Streets Department.
Inside Checkerboard Square, some employees' tempers flared. According to an anonymous email sent to the company's food-truck supporters, one security employee had indicated that a no-parking sign was knocked down during an accident and had not yet been replaced. There also were concerns about sight lines for those pulling out of the main tower's circle drive. A representative from Mayor Francis Slay's office, however, told Relish that a no-parking sign hadn't existed in the location prior; the new sign had been requested through Alderwoman Phyllis Young's office.
Regarding the situation, Alderwoman Young responded, "The no parking signs were installed by the exit from Nestle onto Chouteau to allow safer passage from the complex onto the street. The food trucks were parking too close to the exit before that. I had complaints from Nestle. Even after the installation, I went past one day, and a food truck was parked in the no parking space with another behind it.
"I don't know what the rumors are, but there wouldn't be trouble if the operators would use common sense."
Among the rumors was that American Food and Vending employees at Nestlé Purina's cafeteria had been asked to park in the spots until the no-parking sign was erected. But Tom Horn, vice president of human resources at American Food and Vending, indicated, "I’m quite certain that no instruction was given to any employee to intentionally park in a space in order to block a food truck." (At press time, Nestlé Purina had not responded to requests for comment.)
The next day, no food trucks visited the campus. Seoul Taco, however, wasn't going to skip its regular Friday stop, and The Sausage Syndicate didn't let the new sign keep it away. Both trucks were parked in front of the tower before 11 a.m. last Friday, when a St. Louis Streets Department employee was waiting to shoo them away. Seoul Taco employees took photos of its truck and the no-parking signs to prove that it was legally parked.
Nestlé Purina employees stood in the cold and waited while the trucks then weighed their options. When Seoul Taco attempted to move to Lebanon Avenue, a block south, the Streets Department employee was waiting, once again telling the truck it wasn't allowed to park there. The truck then moved two blocks west on Chouteau, giving free tacos and kimchi slaw to the devotees who followed.
In the mean time, Sausage Syndicate stayed put. "Martyrs," joked one Nestlé Purina employee. "But that's how changes get made."
Now, Pupillo is making changes of his own because of the difficulties that food trucks are encountering within the city limits. "It seems the city might be having second thoughts about the food trucks," he says. "I know we are launching a second truck in the next couple weeks called Sarah's Melt Down, but we are not going to get a city permit because of all the issues. It's sad they are limiting choices in the city for those that work there."