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Food trucks in Portola Valley: 'I'm spanking clean'

For Portola Valley resident and restaurateur Russell Deutsch, who owns a food truck and the Old Port Lobster Shack in Ladera, cleanliness is a priority, the venue notwithstanding.

"I'm spanking clean all the time," Mr. Deutsch told the Almanac when asked if his food truck is spanking clean when the annual inspection by the San Mateo County public health department rolls around. "That's the way I run my restaurant. That's the way I run my trucks."

Mr. Deutsch launched his food truck operation about a year ago, he said. He is a member of Mobile Gourmet, a Portola Valley-based company that organizes gourmet food truck visits, including on Thursday evenings at Christ Episcopal Church in Portola Valley.

His Old Port truck has not shown up there. "I don't need to be there. I'm already there (in Ladera)," he said.

With a foot in each world, he would know if inspections by public health officials are tougher on trucks than on restaurants. Are they?

"No," he said, "but they are definitely a lot quicker." The inspection to renew an operating permit takes around 15 minutes and checks for a three-bay sink, refrigeration at or below 41 degrees, and hot water at or above 135 degrees. Surprise inspections are longer because they test food temperatures. A restaurant inspection often takes 30 minutes, he said.

"Have I seen trucks that aren't that clean?" Mr. Deutsch said. "Oh yeah. They're out there." Typical indicators include an old generator, old paint and dirt. Nonfunctioning lights indicate a broken generator, which means a nonfunctioning refrigerator and big trouble.

Mr. Deutsch's restaurant is several miles away from Christ Church, and he said he hasn't noticed a fall-off in business on Thursday nights. Food trucks occupy a niche that should not concern a successful restaurant, but trucks should keep a respectful distance, he said.

People going to the Parkside Grill restaurant, which is near the church, aren't going suddenly switch and "go get a Peruvian taco and sit outside and not have a nice cocktail," he said.

Parkside Grill owner Bill Petkopoulos, while not arguing that point, said he probably does lose business -- from a truck selling pizza, for example.

"I'm selling pizza over here," he said. "What's wrong with my product? (The truck's pizza does) not necessarily match my quality, but they sell it for less and people go there instead of here."

"What do I do next? Get a food truck?" he said. As for the Christ Church events, "Make it once a month," he said, "but every Thursday? They might as well put a building there."

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