Tucker Curtin versus the Food Trucks

You’d think that a restaurateur would welcome some competition. You’d think that a diner, when confronted with a popular hamburger food truck, would make a better hamburger to compete. Or tout the fact that it serves booze. You’d think that a person with a monopoly on food on Buffalo’s Outer Harbor would have some self-awareness about it. 

According to Jill Terreri in the Buffalo News, Buffalo restaurateur Tucker Curtin wants Buffalo’s food trucks to operate under much more stringent regulations than any other food business in town, than they operate under currently, and than most trucks in most cities operate. Tucker Curtin owns the Steer, Lake Effect Diner, and Dug’s Dive – all three reasonably forgettable purveyors of mediocre crap, sometimes done up in a trendy way. 

Curtin, whose restaurants I will never again patronize, retained counsel to agitate for rules that include:

– no food truck may operate within 100 feet of any private property of any sort without express permission of the owner or tenants;

– no food truck may park within 25 feet of a hydrant, intersection, or driveway to a lot with more than 10 spots;

– all food trucks must have a restaurant license.

– all food truck workers must have a peddler’s license. Everyone from the kid who heats up your tortilla to the person who writes the ticket;

– that trucks operate under special restrictions on Elmwood and Hertel, not just Buffalo Place;

The trucks in Buffalo pay a $1,000 fee for an annual permit for the privilege of serving food from a mobile unit that has none of the advantages of brick and mortar restaurants. This is about three times what trucks pay in most other cities, and the restrictions effectively forbid them from operating where the people are. Buffalo Place and downtown Buffalo is effectively cut off to them unless they pay another thousand-plus-dollar permit fee –  for the privilege of an inconvenient spot far from where people are.  On Elmwood and Hertel, it’s not easy finding a legal spot when people are out and about.

Curtin’s motives are unknown, but what he is attempting to accomplish amounts to nothing more than protectionism and anticompetitive behavior in a town not noted for its business friendliness or open-mindedness. The fact that the current ordinance was passed was amazing. The fact that it’s too restrictive and too expensive is something that needs to be remedied – not worsened. Tucker Curtin’s restaurants aren’t able to compete effectively with sliders from the Knight Slider truck, so he is going to war. 

I don’t quite want to hear about how Curtin has the right to say or lobby for what he wants. I don’t quite want to hear that he may have a point. He does have the right to agitate for what he wants, and I have a right to despise what he wants and to criticize it. Likewise, I don’t think he has a point at all. If your restaurant serves food that is so forgettably mediocre that a slider truck cleans your clock, maybe you should step up your game instead of lobbying your pals on the Common Council to punish your competition. It is, quite frankly, a prime example of what’s wrong with Buffalo. 

Brian Davis: Convict

Brian Davis. Timothy Wanamaker. 

They’re the ones who got indicted and convicted of criminal wrongdoing in connection with the One Sunset debacle a few years ago. 

So far. 

Sentenced to a year in jail yesterday by a federal judge, Davis argued for leniency by pointing to the bad press he’s received from the news media in town. You know – news reporting

One Sunset was famously funded by the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, featured a friend of the mayor’s as owner, and failed spectacularly within about a year, leaving a trail of unpaid bills. Owner Leonard Stokes clearly had no clue how to run a successful restaurant/bar business, and suddenly Councilmember Brian Davis got caught paying the place’s rent, bouncing checks on landlord Kevin Brinkworth. It was all bizarre – Davis had never disclosed any interest in One Sunset in any disclosure. 

One Sunset received $80,000 from BERC, $50,000 from the ECIDA, and $20,000 in community block grant money to fix up a facade that wasn’t bad to begin with.  Jim Heaney, now running the Investigative Post, ran the story for the Buffalo News, and found that public money continued to be infused so the business could tread water – up to $160,000, $90,000 of which was unaccounted-for. $39,000 in inventory and furniture went missing. Mayor Brown? He set up the environment that led to One Sunset, and fired City Hall employee Michelle Barron for “managing” the place into the ground. She was just a scapegoat. As it turned out, Mayor Brown was closer to Stokes than he originally let on, and everyone at City Hall dummied up about everything. 

Davis left office after it was discovered that he had diverted campaign cash to his own wallet, while this conviction was still under investigation. Make no mistake – Davis was a Grassroots protege of Mayor Brown’s. It got to the point where the satirical Buffalo Ruse published a “questionnaire” for prospective Davis replacements

Question 2: What one fact about the One Sunset restaurant scandal convinced you that the whole thing was perpetrated by our shameful Mayor Byron Brown?

Question 3: if you were the FBI, what other guilty members of the Brown Administration would you investigate and why?

 The whole thing blew up BERC itself, so that business development is now handled through the Buffalo Urban Development Corporation and the Buffalo Urban Renewal Agency. Timothy Wanamaker, the city’s former economic development chief, hasn’t yet agreed to spill everything he knows about the city’s involvement with One Sunset, but it’s an ongoing thing and I don’t think the book has been fully closed on the corruption that led to a quite literal theft of public money by elected and appointed government officials who owed a fiduciary duty to the public with respect to those funds. 

Tick tock. 



Two for Tuesday

1. Hopefully, the WNY Food Truck Association will have something to celebrate later today, as the Buffalo Common Council is set to vote on proposed food truck permitting and regulations at 2pm today (Tuesday the 24th).  Buffalo Place, which governs much of the downtown CBD, has said it will follow the same guidelines the city sets forth, although trucks may have to pay a separate fee for a Buffalo Place permit. Follow along at #BUFTruck on Twitter.


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2. The Boston Bruins traveled to the White House yesterday as part of a traditional ceremony where the President congratulates the winner of last season’s Stanley Cup. All the Bruins attended, except for one. Goaltender Tim Thomas is a Glenn Beck “conservative” and decided to skip the ceremony, issuing the following statement (verbatim, all SIC):

I believe the Federal government has grown out of control, threatening the Rights, Liberties, and Property of the People.

This is being done at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial level. This is in direct opposition to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers vision for the Federal government.

Because I believe this, today I exercised my right as a Free Citizen, and did not visit the White House. This was not about politics or party, as in my opinion both parties are responsible for the situation we are in as a country. This was about a choice I had to make as an INDIVIDUAL.

This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic. TT

Setting aside for a moment the statement’s inherent inconsistency, no one is disputing Thomas’ right as a “Free Citizen” to opt to skip the White House event. But what, precisely, did it accomplish? I’m not aware of a similar snub taking place during George W. Bush’s administration, and if it had I’d have been critical of that, as well. Because the White House event wasn’t a political one. It wasn’t a Bruin endorsement of Barack Obama and his policies.

You don’t have to agree with the President to attend a ceremony honoring you, and I think it’s somewhat indicative of a complete breakdown of fundamental civility in our society. Regardless of your thoughts on the current occupant of the White House, the office and what it stands for deserve a certain degree of honor and respect. If the President wants to congratulate you for an achievement, I think it’s better form to go, rather than to stay home and make a political point about why.  Although the Presidency is a governmental post, it needn’t always be a political one, and this wasn’t a political event.

Again – not because Thomas isn’t free to do whatever he damn well wants to do. But I think it was a childish and self-centered move that reflects poorly on him, and is deserving of criticism.