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Where's the (Mobile) Grass-Fed Beef?

Missing your favorite burger truck at Off The Grid? Me, too. Apparently we don't have a free market here in Alameda.

If anyone’s been missing burger trucks at Alameda’s Off The Grid (OTG), it turns out that Pearl's complained about them. Pearl's is the burger joint at South Shore that, as far as I've seen, is usually packed on OTG days. 

I asked one of the burger truck owners if this was true and he said, “True. They actually filed legal action against the Lease holder for violation of terms.” This is disappointing for several reasons but primarily, if Pearl’s can’t compete on the merits of their product, then they have a problem with their product, not the competition.

If Pearl’s were smart, which it appears they aren’t, they could try to compete like a business and not like a whiny baby. That is, maybe they could run a “burger truck special” on days when burger trucks are in the OTG line up. Their prices are comparable to the trucks’, but they offer many more menu options. It seems like it wouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a marketing strategy that could easily compete with a burger truck. (Pearl’s is a chain – a local chain – but not an Alameda-based chain.)

Nearly every time I’ve been in line at OTG, I’ve heard someone say “I don’t want to wait, let’s go to Pearl’s.” I’d guess that there are a fair number of people who, even if eager to sample some of the gourmet fare offered by the trucks, don’t want to wait in line for it.  

I realize food trucks aren’t for everyone, but if we want to have a free market, competition is intrinsic to that. It means companies have to step up and provide the best product and we get to choose which one we buy. Peet’s didn’t sue Starbucks when they opened a shop (or five) across the street from every Peet’s (even though Alfred Peet trained the founders of Starbucks). That’s a lot of coffee in close quarters, but it means we get more choice and both shops seem to be doing fine.

To be honest, I don’t go to Pearl’s that often because I don’t want to eat burgers (or any fast food) that often. But when I have gone, I’ve enjoyed having a choice of grass-fed organic beef, turkey, grilled chicken or a salad. They also offer a “mini” so I can indulge, but not hork down a gut bomb. Their food is OK, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat there.

When it comes to the trucks, there is one I never miss because it is the very best burger I’ve ever had and if Pearl’s were smart, which again it seems they aren’t, they’d walk over to the Five Ten Burger truck and buy one and then figure out how to make theirs better. In the 50 Best Burgers in San Francisco, Pearl’s ranked a respectable #32. However, Five Ten Burger was #16 and Docs of the Bay was #11. Even In & Out Burger beat Pearl’s at #21. I think Burgermeister is better as well (they didn’t make the 50 Best list). They also have a full bar with TV sets – always a plus.

There is no shortage of competition for great burgers and no reason to ever have a mediocre one with these excellent options around us. If Pearl’s can’t up their game and compete with the better burgers, then they need to get to work, not take legal action. Even though I rarely eat there, I won’t be eating there again until they grow up and make a better product and stop trying to squash the competition they can’t compete with. How un-American, which is ironic for a burger joint, no?

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virgo October 18, 2012 at 02:44 AM
I haven't been going to the trucks much but I've been at South Shore and noticed all the trucks are some sort of Asian food. It sucks that Pearl's whined about it because I love FiveTen burger. Pearl's has a good bacon cheeseburger but it's nothing to write home about and I don't like their fries or onion rings. Usually when my husband and I have a craving for a burger, we drive to In-n-Out in Oakland. Way better than Pearl's. I like your analogy with Peet's and Starbucks. If those 2 chains can do well being right across the street from each other on a permanent basis then it seems Pearl's can suck it up and compete with food trucks for one day a week.
dj October 18, 2012 at 12:15 PM
I don't understand why there isn't a place in town for a burger on decent bread. We go to Wood Tavern in Oakland or Original Joe's in SF because we want our burgers on something of substance, not a squishy bun.
Jennifer Loring October 18, 2012 at 04:37 PM
Totally agree. Pearl's fries aren't so hot. And like you, if I just gotta have a burger and Five Ten isn't nearby, I head to In & Out! Better prices, too!
Soccer Dad October 18, 2012 at 04:42 PM
I disagree. Pearl's lease undoubtedly contains a provision that it be the only burger place at the center. They PAID for that right of exclusivity. The landlord would be in breach of a a legal contract if they allowed another burger place, wheeled or not.
Jennifer Loring October 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM
That's all well & good, but it's a bummer for burger lovers. Maybe the burger trucks can park just outside the property so we can choose the better product. ;)
John Fabiani October 18, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Please cite evidence for your "contains a provision". Applebees has burgers.
Soccer Dad October 18, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Mr. Fabiani-- I do not have a copy of the lease so I cannot provide evidence. However, I have negotiated commercial lease agreements like this one in the past and these kinds of provisions are very common. Additionally, Applelbees would have been grandfathered in as it was there before Pearls, and also is not primarily a hamburger restaurant and therefore would not violate such a condition.
Claudia La Roche October 18, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Bring back the burger truck!! Pearls is over priced and the burgers are not that good!!!
Soccer Dad October 18, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Jennifer Loring-- Gotta say I love FiveTen burgers too. What if it parked somewhere else like the old Der Wienerschnitzel on Park St.?
Jennifer Loring October 18, 2012 at 07:10 PM
That would be awesome to use the old Der Weinerhut parking lot! Great idea! I'll pass that along... ; )
Jennifer Loring October 18, 2012 at 07:17 PM
If anyone's interested, Five Ten Burger will be at Rosenblum Cellars for lunch this Saturday!
wyatt October 18, 2012 at 08:15 PM
I don't care about any of the legal mumbo jumbo I agree Pearl's is being a whiny baby and I am certainly not going to eat there anymore if they cannot share.
Marvin H October 18, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Soccer Dad, we don't know what is in their lease and to make assumptions is just a waste of time. It could be that they just complained to the South Shore management and the management listened to one of their lease holders and told OTG no more burger trucks. It's the end result that counts, not how they got there.
Marvin H October 18, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Brick and mortar business often have knee jerk reactions to these kinds of things. It's the competition, they are taking up all the parking, no one going to the trucks is coming into the mall. No one has trotted out any studies that show that having pop-up food or retail steals sales from surrounding businesses. If the local chamber of commerce could find a study I think they would have no problem bringing it to everyone's attention. The studies I have read show either no change or that pop-ups increase sales in the local area.
Soccer Dad October 18, 2012 at 09:36 PM
It is true that I don't know the particulars of this lease. But to understand this situation it would be useful to have modicum of knowledge about this kind of lease. It is the rare retail project that is unencumbered by exclusive use rights granted by a landlord to its tenants. While that may not have been as true in the distant past, this is now the “rule of the game.” It would be astonishingly unusual for Pearls to not have any exclusive use rights. As to a tenant’s remedies, possible solutions can include exposing the landlord to a damage claim (possibly including consequential damages), giving the “protected” tenant the right to terminate the lease (with or without the right to pursue damages), abatement of rent, or changing from a fixed rent to a rent based on a percentage of sales.
Soccer Dad October 19, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Nice. I will try to make it by there.
Michele Kuttner October 19, 2012 at 01:03 PM
First, I can't believe the word "Scolari's" has not come up in this conversation. Scolari's on Park St. (and weekdays at the HB Business Park) makes one of the best cheeseburgers I've ever eaten. We've tried Pearl's overhyped burgers twice-big, messy and tasteless. Second, Pearl's may serve grass fed and organic beef but does it come from California? Both FiveTen Burger and Scolari's source their beef and products from California. You're not doing the planet a favor if you're eating beef flown in from halfway around the world.
Soccer Dad October 19, 2012 at 03:31 PM
I love Scolari's but my only complaint is there's nowhere to sit when you're eating as a family. Fine to eat at the bar next door, but you can't bring kids in there. Wish they had a dining room.
John Fabiani October 21, 2012 at 09:37 PM
Thank you for the reply.

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