Boston’s food truck vendors are 10 weeks from opening for the season, but they already have some idea of where they’ll be hawking their wood-fire pizza, fish tacos, and other moveable feasts.
The city held its annual food truck lottery to assign sales locations on public ways Tuesday evening at Faneuil Hall. Some 22 locations around the city were made available for food trucks, with each location divided into different time slots — breakfast or lunch, for example.
Altogether, 351 time slots were raffled off during a long and tedious process. The available spaces did not include some of the popular food truck spots in the city — those on the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, which the nonprofit Greenway Conservancy awards separately.
As in sports, a high draft pick can be a big win. A primo spot can mean getting to park within sniffing distance of thousands of hungry people. But with food purveyors planning to roll out 81 trucks this year — 23 more than last year — the odds of landing a top selection weren’t great. While the city has not capped the number of licenses it issues, it does limit the number of trucks that can sell in one place at any given time.
For example, at the Innovation and Design Center on Drydock Avenue in the Seaport District, there are just two lunchtime spots available each day. City Hall Plaza has three.
“If you’re in the first tier in the lottery, you can count on getting one good shift,” said Toirm Miller, the co-owner of Stoked Wood Fired Pizza. “After that it’s a crap shoot.”
Miller didn’t do too badly: Stoked snagged a lunchtime serving on Clarendon Street in the Back Bay.
It took three hours to divvy up the daily schedule for the 22 locations, as officials and truck owners labored through a low-tech selection process.
Returning vendors were split into two tiers, with those rated highest on inspections and compliance with city rules in the first lottery group and those with lower rankings put in a second round of drawing. New trucks comprised a third tier and were picked last.
Business names were printed on scraps of paper and drawn at random from a bowl; owners claimed a shift — a Wednesday lunch slot at the Boston Public Library, for example — by placing a sticky note on the schedule at one of 22 stations set up in the hall that corresponded to available locations. A worker from the city’s Office of Food Initiatives tracked the picks in a spreadsheet that was projected on a screen far too small for most people to see.
“All the technology we have, and this is how we’re doing it,” said Sean Clarke, co-owner of Walloon’s, a food truck lottery rookie that specializes in French fries. It got one of the plum lunch spots outside the BPL. “There’s got to be a faster way.”
The Boston food truck scene has exploded since 2011, when there were just three mobile meal providers on the road, according to the city’s Office of Food Initiatives. The growth means an increasingly wide selection for on-the-go diners. Available dishes now go far beyond hot dogs and hamburgers to include barbecued lamb, seafood, waffles, and pasta.
But some food trucks have learned not to bank on the city-offered locations.
“If you’re relying on the lottery for your business, you’re in deep trouble,” said Bryan Peugh, owner of Baja Taco Truck.
Peugh said he’s learned that it’s better to line up meal shifts at private locations or on the Greenway. He treats whatever he gets through the lottery as a supplement.Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.