HPD vs. Food Trucks

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Crime

HPD vs. Food Trucks
The hassling goes on.

Terrence McCoy

Houston police spokesperson John Cannon has trouble not laughing when he hears about the food truck Oh My Gogi. It's not their complaints, or their food, or the owners. It's the name. Oh. My. Gogi. The punch lines pretty much write themselves.

Oh My Gogi isn't laughing.

Owner Eric Nguyen says the Houston Police Department has unfairly targeted his food truck over the last month, coming after them with a new flurry of citations every week. In the last month, the food truck, which sells Korean barbecue and tacos near Rice Village on the weekends, has been inspected four different times by police and hit with at least four different violations.

It started a month ago, manager Daniel Davenport said. He parked the Oh My Gogi truck near Brian O'Neill's and started selling tacos. But then the cops showed up and wrote him a citation because he didn't have a food preparation permit on him, though he showed it to them on his iPad. Not good enough, they said, writing him a citation.

Davenport didn't think much of it, but then things got weird. The cops showed up again the next week. They were different officers, Davenport said, and they declined to say why they'd come again. "They said, 'We were told by our sergeant to come and crack down on you all," Davenport said.

Cannon said the HPD has in no way targeted Oh My Gogi. Earlier this year, area residents and restaurant owners began complaining about all the food trucks, he said. So police have launched an inspection sweep of the area. In the last month, he said, police have written at least 50 citations. Cannon said the campaign will continue for at least one more month.

Oh My Gogi's Davenport takes us inside the police offensive. He said the second time they came to Oh My Gogi, police found his propane tank on the outside of the truck and shut him down. He had to throw away $800 worth of food. Then police made him pour bleach all over it.

The next week was the worst, he recalled.

Again, it was different officers — this time two officers named J. Sanchez and A. Huff — who came to his food truck. Davenport said a "sergeant" had sent them, and they had to find something to cite. Police wrote three infractions for displaying their business permits, which were on hand but not in open sight.

Nguyen couldn't believe it. "We're totally legit," he said. "But they're always going to find something. Our truck is the only one being picked on. It's weird. And it scares me. There are just so many rules that we don't know about and they could keep writing citations forever."

Other food truck owners, a conspiratorial lot, perceive politics behind the police actions. Tom Morris, who owns Coreanos, said it may be related to all the recent brouhaha over whether the city will deregulate food trucks, which would allow them more freedom to enter downtown and provide seating for customers. "But my opinion is, bring it on," said Morris.

Indeed, there have been some strange happenings on City Council regarding food trucks. Councilman Andrew Burks has fretted over the propane tanks. Will the terrorists exploit them? Jack Christie, meanwhile, has insinuated that food truck operators may be selling some illicit materials out of their carts, in addition to cheap food.

So maybe the police are in cahoots with City Council? some owners wondered.

Police deny such theories. "Any time you have any type of enforcement, they're always going to be looking and saying the police want to pad stats or something," Cannon said. "But that's got nothing to do with it."

Still, the police returned again to Oh My Gogi October 5. This time, Davenport's bemusement turned into anger. He couldn't figure out why they were back again. As he remembers the dialogue:

Davenport: You come out here every week!

Policeman: It's going to happen every week.

Davenport: But, why?

Policeman: I have no idea.

Ultimately, the police didn't write any citations that night, Davenport said. But he just about lost it. So he did what any flummoxed food truck owner would do in a panic. He got on Twitter, dispatching a tweet to City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who expressed food truck support.

Gonzalez told the Houston Press he's looking into the Oh My Gogi saga. "Normally, no one calls in and says, 'We're being targeted,'" he said. "When they reached out to us this weekend, it was the first time I'd seen anything like this. We're getting more information."

In the meanwhile, the weekend is only days away, and what does that mean for Oh My Gogi?
_____________________

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