Food Truck Vendors Struggling to Get Back on the Road After Blaze

With the summer season in full swing, folks are ready to get their hands on some local food truck fare and that usually means business is good for Schmear It food truck owner, Dave Fine. However for the past three weeks, his bagel business has come to a halt after a fire left his food truck totaled.

Along with multiple vendors like PB&U and Matt’s, popular bagel truck Schmear It is one truck that sustained devastating smoke damage after a fire broke out at their commissary, leaving them out of business for at least two months. Truck owner, Dave Fine, is now without the two main components of his business -- his truck and his kitchen.

"I thought we would be back on the road with the food truck sooner than later," explains Fine, who uses the commissary to prepare all his food. "The commissary is a great space, too, and is unique because we can park there ... we're playing the waiting game."

The process has been eye-opening, Fine explained. Dealing with insurance companies over food trucks is an unusual experience as "assessing a food truck is much different than assessing a car."

USA Mobile Commissary, located at 1501 N 31st Street in Philadelphia, is home to some of the city’s most popular food trucks and vendors and is a place where the small businesses prepare food before a day out on the road. The health department requires them all to use a commissary and USA Mobile is the largest. But after the blaze broke out on June 6, the building and 30 food trucks inside sustained smoke damage that has left some of the trucks off the road indefinitely.

Commissary owner, Gary Koppelman, hoped the kitchen and vendors would get back up and running within a few days. But he doesn't own the building and can only do so much.

"Vendors can’t sell a single hot dog until everything is re-inspected," said Koppelman, who explained he and a small group of friends have been cleaning the building to get the kitchen back up and running for vendors -- both with trucks and without.

"I care about the 30 plus businesses that are trying to provide for themselves and their families," said Koppelman, "This is what I do and I want people back on the road."

Along with the kitchen being out of use, a handful of trucks were so badly damaged, those vendors now have to rebuild their trucks.

Both commissary and vendor concerns have been brought to the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association and the association’s President, Rob Mitchell, who sees this fire as a major blow to the industry.

“USA Mobile Commissary is the biggest commissary in the city,” says Mitchell, “This is absolutely tragic and we’re trying to be as supportive as we can, with the PMFA’s power, in any way.”

Mitchell stresses since the industry is still so young, those involved are going through the “growing pains” of getting the proper regulations vendors need, including things like insurance and health and safety laws.

"No true comprehensive 'food truck' insurance policy exists ... the industry grew so quickly," which Mitchell said is why Schmear It’s truck is considered totaled, as well as the handful of other trucks from the commissary.

Food trucks generally prepare for winter months and usually expect a dip as the weather turns cold. A situation like this is almost like a blizzard in the middle of June for the vendors who are out of work. Despite this, Fine says like the many loyal customers that follow their favorite food truck, Schmear It’s patrons have been supportive.

"The outpouring of love and support on Facebook and Twitter has been awesome," said Fine, "We’re excited to get back and be better than ever."

In the meantime, Fine and the rest of the Schmear It team are working on opening a brick and mortar storefront in Philadelphia and believe their future in the bagel business is looking bright.

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