Could Authorities Bust the Mission's Street-Food Party?
The Mission's underground street-food scene is heating up as fast as an empty wok over a cranked burner. The Chron took notice last week, and on page A1, no less. Even the LA Times travel blog was caught licking its chops. But while the street-food party is gaining momentum, fueled by what seem like weekly Twitter alerts about some new vendor, there's a potential buzz-kill lurking: the law.
Kevin.The.Great via Flickr Creme Brulee Guy in action in Dolores Park
SFoodie doesn't know of any new-crop Mission vendors who have permits to hawk food. What's the likelihood that city authorities will stage a crackdown on scofflaw entrepreneurs, especially in the face of mainstream buzz? Conversations with officials from both the police and the Health Department suggested that while the city doesn't currently seem to have much appetite for busts of vendors like Curtis the Crème Brulee Guy, Cookie Wag, Amuse Bouche, or Sexy Soup Lady, the possibility of future action is real.
Richard Lee, the city's director of Health Regulatory Programs, told SFoodie that action against unlicensed vendors almost always comes from the police. "Anytime we see or know about a violation, we report it to the police," said Lee. "They can shut the vendor down, and a lot of the time they might confiscate their food." The Health Department has some two dozen inspectors crisscrossing the city to perform inspections of restaurants and other permitted facilities. When they notice a street vendor they suspect of being unlicensed, procedure calls for them to alert the cops.
But asked whether inspectors work in the evenings (when vendors typically show up in Dolores Park or Linda Street), Lee acknowledged that most clock out at 5 p.m. "They may not see it, but then the police would see it," he said. Early last month, Lee's department was reportedly monitoring vendor tweets about when and where food sellers would show up to do business. He said it informed officers at Mission Station about suspected illegal sales.
Was anyone busted? And what are the penalties for selling food without permits? Read Part Two Monday at SFoodie.