Food trucks may be seen as a road to riches for foodservice entrepreneurs, but the owners of the No Tomatoes truck in Los Angeles learned over the holidays that plans can be curbed quickly by theft.
Several suspects have been charged in Fresno County, Calif., in connection with the Dec. 23 theft of the bright orange No Tomatoes truck from its commissary in Los Angeles. Police discovered the truck three days later in a motel parking lot six hours away in Fowler, Calif., with its signage skin partially peeled off and repainted with the words “Bad Boy Burgers.”
“The food truck industry out here is still a little bit like the Wild West,” said Kim Billingsley, director and co-owner of No Tomatoes, which took to the road on Oct. 22, 2010. A year later Billingsley opened the brick-and-mortar No Tomatoes! Indian Café in Los Angeles.
The theft generated attention on Twitter, where fans joined the hunt with Tweets about the license plate number.
Billingsley said the truck driver left the leased truck at the Slauson Foods commissary in Los Angeles at about 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 23. The truck was reported missing on the afternoon of Dec. 25, after a search failed to turn up the half-ton truck.
Billingsley filed a stolen vehicle report with the Los Angeles Police Department, and authorities in Fresno County, Calif., nearly six hours away, discovered it in a motel parking lot on Dec. 27 near Fresno.
One of the suspects is a former employee of No Tomatoes, Billingsley said. “The manager of this little motel had seen these guys spray-painting the truck,” Billingsley said. “He questioned them, got a license plate number and then called the police.”
The suspects had repainted the passenger/service side of the truck, as well as the front and part of the driver’s side. They also had peeled off any reference to the brand and city-issued permits, decals and health department grades.
“The one thing they didn’t remove was the license plate,” Billingsley said.
Billingsley said the truck, which is leased from Slauson, is covered by insurance, but she is unsure if the insurance company will cover any loss of income. The truck returned, in its “Bad Boy Burger” state, for service on Jan. 2 during the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena, Calif., Billingsley said, but the owners hope to get it rewrapped with No Tomatoes signage
“Because it’s still kind of the Wild West,” Billingsley said, “you don’t always get the cream of the crop people to work for you. It’s long hours. It’s often affected by the weather, or the truck breaks down. It can be very stressful. It’s not for everybody.”
The New Year holiday has delayed getting the No Tomatoes signage back, but the owners hope to have it back in shape by next week.
Billingsley said her insurance company told her food trucks usually are stolen and sent to a chop shop to be sold for parts, and that an intact truck repurposed is rare.
She also said the commissary is changing its security policies and now keeps the truck keys themselves under lock and key to prevent further thefts.
“Food trucks are not for the faint of heart,” Billingsley said. “For our café, I don’t have to worry about someone coming in and moving my restaurant.”