Cops Ready to Bust the San Francisco Street Food Scene; What Vendors Must Do to Adapt


Update: Thursday, June 11, 2009 @ 10:27AM – John Birdsall from SFoodie reports on invitation-only tweets from street food vendors and gives a shout out to my suggestions given in this article.

Update: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 @ 2:56PM – Blogger Matthew Cohen chimes in and suggests that the street food vendors partner with existing bars, restaurants, and storefronts, because “the way to preserve its vibrancy isn’t to take it more underground.

Update: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 @ 9:35AM – John Birdsall from SFoodie reports that the cops may have arrived due to a crowd complaint.

It’s no secret that the biggest trend to hit the San Francisco food scene has been street food, espcially in the Mission district. Not just your typical hot dog vendors and taco trucks, but high quality treats showcasing local ingredients being hawked on the streets by professional chefs, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists. There’s the Creme Brulee Cart, Magic Curry Kart, SexySoupCart, Amuse Bouche, SF Moo Moo Cakes, and of course the legendary bacon wrapped hot dog carts, among many others. San Francisco is a city world renowned for its cutting edge and diverse cuisine, but it is well behind in the street food scene compared to the likes of New York, Bangkok, Barcelona, and Mexico City, just to name a few. With what seems like a new street food vendor joining the party every week, the future of a bustling street food industry would seem inevitable, until the police decided to get involved.

Last Thursday I went to pay a visit to the SexySoupCart with Anne, in hopes of trying the Carrot Ginger Coconut Soup with Baguette (very good, but that’s a different article altogether). When we arrived, there was a good crowd of people but it looked like she was packing up the cart. When asked, she said the cops came and told her to pack it up, though without a fine. Unfortunate for her, but Anne and I still lucked out and snatched up the second to last serving of soup!

Ironically, earlier that day the SFoodie blog on SF Weekly posted an article suggesting that the police may begin cracking down on the street food vendors because of a lack of permits and regulation by the Health Department. In a follow up article on the SFoodie blog, John Birdsall breaks down the cost of acquiring said permit:

Getting the proper permits to be a pushcart vendor can seem prohibitively pricey to underground vendors. The Department of Public Health requires applicants to submit for a permit to operate, a sanitation certificate, and a fire marshall application. The fee for a pushcart on private property costs $737, on top of an environmental health application fee of $298.

So what are they supposed to do now, with the police and Health Department apparently following them on Twitter and being notified of their whereabouts? I gave this much thought, and decided that these may be the best options to preserve what many of us have come to love and enjoy.

  1. Get a Permit. Okay, no shit. That’s a pretty hefty price to pay if you’re just peddling $3 creme brulees out of a cart once or twice a week. Many of these vendors have full time jobs and just do it as a hobby to bring good, cheap food to the people as well as showing the world why this city is at the forefront of food trends – people here really care about food.
  2. Make Twitter Profiles Private. If the police are following your public profile, make it private so they can’t view your updates. It’s not perfect, because anyone could create an account and follow them, but it may help. It would also be a hassle to approve hundreds of new followers on a daily basis, but at least they can screen out anyone with a Twitter handle like @ihatestreetfood. Which brings me to my next point…
  3. Block Spam Followers. I know everyone hates having @4hv67x following them, but street food vendors can also block other suspicious followers. For the vendors, it’s quality over quantity, and the value of approving ten locals who genuinely want to try their food versus allowing 100 spam bots is incredibly high.
  4. Direct Message Followers. The Creme Brulee Cart did this successfully by asking those who wanted to find him that week to send him a direct message on Twitter, and he replied with his location. It’s very time-intensive, but the turn out was great and everyone who replied obviously was very interested in tracking him down. Again, quality over quantity.
  5. Change Locations. Not only did the Creme Brulee Cart direct message interested parties, he switched up locations from his usual spot. This is obviously beneficial if the police know where their usual location is. In this case only those in the know, know.
  6. Communicate. This goes hand in hand with everything else, but it must be said. Communication between the vendors and the people must go both ways. If one vendor is out and gets busted by the cops, Tweet about it and let the other vendors and potential customers know not to come. Also, if a location change is necessary, Tweet that as well. Likewise, followers should also Tweet any updates themselves, information must be shared in real time. Many people Tweet via mobile devices, so if they are already on route they can easily adapt and meet at the new location without wasting time and showing up to an empty street corner.

These guidelines are not perfect, but in the wake of current events they may be necessary to preserve this new and exciting culinary scene, as well as sustain it’s growth for future San Francisco street food vendors looking to bring good, cheap food to the people who appreciate it so much they are willing to make an adventure out of tracking down their next meal.

Also check out:
Best of SF Weekly’s Best of San Francisco 2009: Futurismo
Best Creme Brulee Cart Flavor?

The Legend of the Bacon Hot Dog Cart
Street Food Redefined – The Creme Brulee Cart
New School Food Peddler – The Magic Curry Kart
Laszlo Bar in the Mission; Communists Invade SF
Double Dutch Bar in the Mission
The Front Porch in the Mission


8 Responses to “Cops Ready to Bust the San Francisco Street Food Scene; What Vendors Must Do to Adapt”

  1. 1 aly

    and while they bust street food vendors in the mission, a crack peddler is selling his just around the corner. how convenient for him that he doesn’t need a vendor license.

  2. Good article. It reminds me that I need to check out some of these vendors, especially the soup cart…

  3. 3 genejo

    aly: lol! So true, maybe the crack dealers are the smart ones, they don’t even need Twitter to get loyal customers.

    hungry dog: The soup cart is a definite must try, in fact they all are! if you can hold out until August, there will be a street food festival featuring all of them! I can’t wait. Hopefully the police don’t keep it from happening.

  4. 4 lol

    i love when white kids complain that even tho they were breaking the law, some black kid is breaking it worse just over there. “there is a crack dealer just around the corner!” is the new “my dad is a lawyer and i’m gonna sue!”

  5. 5 Jacob

    “Sprinkle some crack on him and lets get outta here!”

  6. 6 aly

    good point LOL.

  7. i happen to step into this blog, i just had to say i really like it !
    u got yourself a reader !
    thank you:)

  8. Thanks for reading and enjoying the blog, I really appreciate it!

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