A food truck battle appears to be underway in Rice Village, as the Houston Police Department continues its crackdown on mobile kitchens after fielding numerous recent complaints from area residents and restaurant owners.
"Over the last few months, we've received a lot of complaints about food vendors in the South Central district [which includes Rice Village]," HPD spokesperson John Cannon tells CultureMap.
Korean barbeque truck Oh My Gogi! has been caught in the crosshairs since early September, when it received the first of at least four violations from HPD officers patrolling the Village (this specific truck's plight was first detailed in the Houston Press).
"In no way, shape or form are we singling out Oh My Gogi," HPD spokesperson John Cannon says.
Parked at one of its usual stops — near Brian O'Neill's on Morningside Drive — Gogi was given its initial citation for not properly displaying a food permit, manager Daniel Davenport says. (You can't just have it on an iPad, apparently.)
A week later, a new pair of HPD officers dropped by for a visit but didn't offer a reason aside from being instructed to "crack down" on mobile vendors.
On this occasion, the police gave a citation for having a propane tank outside the truck. Gogi was forced to close immediately. Adding insult to injury, Davenport says he had to discard $800 worth of food. He alleges that the police officers poured bleach on the food for good measure.
Cannon tells CultureMap that the "bleaching" act was not done by HPD. He is awaiting further details about the incident from Houston Health and Human Services, which deals directly with restaurant owners and enforcement follow-ups.
"In no way, shape or form are we singling out Oh My Gogi," Cannon says. "In the past month, officers in the district have written at least 50 citations. That's not just to food trucks, though.
"HPD has increased enforcement of health codes for all types of mobile vendors, including BBQ pit operators."
The police crackdown comes as food truck owners and their supporters are pushing for changes in city ordinances to give them more operating freedom, with some brick and mortar restaurants pushing back, in what's shaping up to be a high-profile city council battle.
While CultureMap was unable to reach Oh My Gogi! for comment, Cannon says HPD reps spoke directly with the food truck's owner Eric Nguyen to assure him that his business was not a target.
"It's the city's job to make sure food servers are in compliance with health codes," Cannon says. "It may seem petty to give someone a citation for not displaying a permit, but we have to enforce the health rules the way they're written."
Cannon adds that the "increased enforcement" throughout Rice Village and the South Central district is likely to continue for at least another month. Food truck owners be warned.