Oh My Gogi! BBQ food truck in controversy with HPD
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 12:10
Rice University students may have been ravenously attacking the Oh My Gogi! BBQ food truck at the Centennial Picnic and Esperanza this past week, but the Houston Police Department has recently been pursuing the truck for a different reason.
According to Oh My Gogi owner Eric Nguyen, the truck, which moves between various locations in Houston including one in Rice Village, has had some run-ins with HPD recently due to alleged permit violations. Nguyen said the problems started in April when an unidentified officer came by and started asking questions.
“There was an officer that visited our truck and started looking around with a flashlight, asking questions and telling us what we were doing wrong,” Nguyen said. “He wouldn’t give us his name or show us his badge.”
Then, Nguyen said two officers came back to the truck about three weeks ago and that this time they provided their names and badges. Nguyen said these officers cited the truck for violating a city ordinance stating that health codes and permits must be displayed in restaurants.
“We didn’t know that this rule applied to us also,” Nguyen said. “The incident lasted about two hours. They shut the truck down and they said that we couldn’t serve.”
Nguyen said he thinks the police went too far by shutting the truck down.
“I’ve never heard of a cop going into a restaurant and shutting it down,” Nguyen said. “Especially since it wasn’t a food-related violation, it seems like they’re wasting their time and hurting our business at the same time.”
In another recent incident, the truck was found in violation of regulations concerning a propane tank, and officers forced his employees to throw away food, Nguyen said.
However, HPD spokesman John Cannon said this was not within the authority of HPD officers.
“[If there are] any claims of throwing away food, those are not HPD officers,” Cannon said. “We do not have the authority to shut down a vendor or tell the vendor that he or she needs to discard any food. The only people who can do that are city health inspectors.”
Nguyen said he was not on-site for this incident, but that he had relayed claims of what happened from his employees who were working at the time.
Nguyen said he had talked to other food trucks around Houston and felt that the police were targeting Oh My Gogi.
“There’s some trucks that run illegally, and they need to be caught,” Nguyen said. “I understand that the police are doing a crackdown on mobile dining, but we do everything by the book.”
Cannon said that Oh My Gogi was not treated differently than any other food truck in Houston.
“It’s not a crackdown by any means,” Cannon said. “It’s a three-month increased enforcement effort. No one is getting selectively enforced. Someone has to make sure that everyone is following all the rules and regulations.”
Cannon said that since this enforcement effort began two months ago, officers have given approximately 50 citations to various mobile operators.
Van Pham is the owner of Phamily Bites, another food truck that frequents Rice campus. He said his truck has not had any incidents with Houston police or code violations recently.
“We have rules to follow, just like any other restaurant,” Pham said.
However, Pham did say that maintaining a food truck business is not easy.
“It’s difficult to keep the business running the way it is,” Pham said. “We have to get an annual inspection, pay an annual fee of around $1,000 to $1,500 to the city and pay a daily commissary receipt of around $12. It’s almost like paying rent.”
Jones College junior Sallyann Zhou said that she goes to Oh My Gogi fairly frequently but that she has not noticed anything suspicious.
“I’m never really concerned with health regulations when I go to Oh My Gogi,” Zhou said. “The thought never really crossed my mind. I guess I’m pretty trusting of food establishments.”
Cannon said that from the police point of view, public safety is most important.
“Officers are getting a bad rap because we’re the ones enforcing, but we’re not in the business of putting small business owners out of business,” Cannon said. “All we’re doing is making sure that it’s in the customer’s best interest. The majority of vendors and operators would agree because they’ve had no problems. Operators think they’re getting picked on if they’ve been visited multiple times.”
Nguyen said he was most frustrated with the HPD’s repeated visits.
“They keep coming back, but I don’t understand why they couldn’t have told us everything we were doing wrong on the first visit,” Nguyen said. “I don’t mind the cops coming by and checking us out, but this feels like harassment.”