By Greg Argos

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Because of the coronavirus crisis, many brick-and-mortar businesses have shuttered, but so have those on four wheels. One small business owner is hoping to reopen dozens of local food truck businesses using new technology that allows social distancing.

Less than one month ago, you could get some delicious street food in a matter of minutes.

But now, city officials have pulled food trucks off the streets because of social distancing concerns and it’s causing major problems for those small business owners.

“They’re panicking right now,” Matt Rossi said.

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Rossi is talking about the more than five dozen food truck businesses he represents as part of the Philly Mobile Food Association.

“So, right now, you’re sitting here looking at what is left of our food trucks. Unfortunately, it is my truck graveyard,” Rossi said.

As an owner of nine trucks himself, Rossi knows the city’s ban on mobile sales because of the COVID-19 crisis is hurting business.

“These trucks are operated by husband and wife so this is their income as a whole. If they lose this, they lose everything,” Rossi said.

But after a spate of warm weather last week, Rossi understands why city officials made their decision.

“Some trucks were out there with long lines of people,” Rossi said. “Those long lines of people kind of showed the point. We weren’t adhering to the social distancing guidelines.”

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But now, Rossi is working to introduce a way to reopen these mobile restaurants while limiting contact between customers and employees.

An established app called Best Food Trucks is already being used in other major cities, and it’s designed to limit contact between workers and their customers.

“You’re able to click on the truck, order your food and you’re alerted when you’re food is ready,” Rossi said.

Payment is done remotely as well.

“Complete non-contact,” Rossi said.

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier is working with Rossi to reopen these mobile businesses.


In a statement, Gauthier wrote, “Food trucks are small businesses, too. We need to make sure that they are being given a fair chance to earn money like brick-and-mortar restaurants are, while also enforcing social distancing as much as possible. I’m supportive of Mr. Rossi’s proposal to adopt this app, and we’re working with the Commerce Department and L&I to see what’s possible.”

Rossi says if City Council and Licenses and Inspections approve the app’s use, food trucks could return to the street as early as next week.

He also points out that they’ll be able to serve essential employees at locations near hospitals and police stations.