An economic and urban development consultant, Lizzy Caston has emerged as an advocate for street food in New Orleans (See "On the Move," 1/31/12). Along with business partner Erica Normand Correa, Caston started NOLAFoodtrucks.com, which is based on a similar site she co-owns in Portland, Ore., a city with more than 600 food trucks. Last fall Caston and Correa introduced the Street Fare Derby, a food festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course that drew some 3,500 people. They plan to stage the event again this summer.
Gambit icon: It's Carnival time, when New Orleans needs street food like nobody's business. What are the chances we'll see more homegrown food vendors here in the future?
Caston: I think you'll see a lot more trucks in the next year. A lot of cities are realizing the potential of food trucks for community development, for small business development. I think there are people in City Hall who see this potential too, and the vendors here now are taking an active role — organizing and trying to make it easier to make some changes that they need to operate.
G: What do you think is behind the new interest in street food?
C: This city has a long history of street food; the whole country does. But then there was this push in the 1940s, '50s and '60s to clean things up, more of a Disney vision of having everything orderly and nothing on the streets. But that's changing now. People are moving back to their downtowns. The economy is different now, too and food trucks are an entry point into business. I think it's tied to the rise you see in home-based businesses and the craft movement. It's just part of the continuum of a shift in small business in the U.S.
G: Do you think food trucks hurt restaurants?
C: This is always the argument against trucks, but I've never seen empirical evidence proving that trucks take away business. If you have someone parking in front of a restaurant's door, that's unfair. But if you have four things on your menu and you're serving people coming out of bars from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. I don't think that's taking away business. I want a university to run a study on this so we can have some data. I don't want public policy based on hearsay and fear.