For his loyal customers, the sight of Bo Saxby’s bright gold “Cheese Wizards” truck around Seattle causes mouths to water and long lines to form. But Saxby says his truck – and his brick and mortar restaurant -- have been the recent targets of what he describes as a rampant increase in crime.
“It’s a very drastic increase in vandalism theft and burglary,” Saxbe said. “We've had about $15,000 in stolen equipment. Over the last few years, we’ve made almost no calls to police for big thefts, but over the last few months, we’ve had five.”
Saxbe told KIRO 7 he's not alone. He reached out to dozens of other Seattle food truck operators, and collected similar burglary, robbery and vandalism stories happening in the last six months.
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“When I talked to everyone else in the business, they all seem to notice the exact same thing, and everyone's pretty freaked out about it,” he said.
Saxbe wrote an open letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, and every member of the Seattle City Council, with an urgent call for help. “We don’t have enough police officers,” he said. We operate on small margins and we employ a lot of people who might not be employable in other businesses. It's really scary to think that this city is getting to the point where little businesses like ours just can't survive. If Seattle loses small businesses like ours, four or five years down the road, what's left here?”
Mayor Durkan’s spokesperson, Stephanie Formas responded to KIRO 7 in writing regarding Saxbe’s letter late Monday night.
“Mayor Durkan agrees that our small businesses need a strong voice in City Hall - it’s why she created the Small Business Advisory Council for owners to have a strong voice in their government,” the statement read. “At her community meetings and neighborhood walking tours, she’s heard their concerns on a range of issues - from crime to rising rents to regulations - and she will work closely with them to take action and keep our small businesses safe.”
“The Mayor is glad the Cheese Wizards took the time to talk to other businesses and write to city officials. She looks forward to meeting Mr. Saxbe soon to hear his concerns and the concerns of the micro-restaurant community.”
Formas also indicated Seattle Police are conducting a “data driven analysis on any criminal activity against food trucks.”
Saxbe says he’s hoping to talk solutions with the city before small businesses like his become endangered by a movement of more desperate criminals, which he believes are increasingly motivated only by addiction. “The problem is right now and it's getting worse by the day,” he said. “This is a serious call for help right now!"
Saxebe’s Open Letter:
22nd February 2018
An open letter to Seattle’s Civic Leaders
Dear Mayor Durkan and members of the City Council: Lisa Herbold, Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, Rob Johnson, Debora Juarez, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lorena González, and Seattle’s (future) Police Chief.
My brother and I are the founders and owners of the Cheese Wizards, a Ballard based fantasy themed food truck that travels around Seattle making gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. We have been around for about six years, we make awesome food, pay our taxes, vote in local elections, and are a Seattle small business success story. We employ almost a dozen Seattleites, source our ingredients locally, have recently opened a small restaurant in Queen Anne, have a huge social media following, donate to our local food bank, and quite frankly, help make Seattle the cool city it is. Here’s our neat-o food truck; you may have even seen it rolling around downtown or nibbled on our scrumptious sandwiches.
That said, we are suffering. Not just us either. The small business community in Seattle is reeling from the absolute worst year we have ever experienced. I am writing to you on behalf of the entire community to beg for help. Property crime and vandalism is absolutely out of control.
I’ve been communicating with a number of owners and workers in the food truck and micro-restaurant community and we are all experiencing the same tidal wave of theft, burglary, and vandalism. Combined, we have over three or four hundred years of experience doing business in Seattle and the group is unanimous that crime has never, ever, been this bad. The severity of crime, right now, is shocking, and we see it getting worse by the day. Owners are terrified of the future. At the current rate, dozens of us will be shut down by the losses we are suffering due to increased criminal activity.
Mayor Durkan, we were so happy when you formed the Seattle Small Business Advisory Council. However, we were somewhat frustrated to see that the vast majority of members are from businesses that are huge when contrasted with ours and those of our peers. Even the representative from the mobile food community (all props to Marination) is leaps and bounds larger than the average food truck operation.
The littlest of the little guys still need a voice. We are a very vulnerable population; we are the smallest of the small. Many owners are first time entrepreneurs, staking years of personal savings and countless hours of unpaid work to turn their dreams into reality. A food truck is an entry into business ownership for many first generation Americans and minorities that lack the social framework to open a larger business. Despite the popular and romanticized image of food truck operators we live a very hard life. Margins are razor thin, the cost of doing business in Seattle is very high. In all honesty, despite hundred hour work weeks, many of us go unpaid or make pennies per hour to keep our businesses alive. Often, owners make less than our lowest paid employees. Our crew members are vulnerable too. Food workers can struggle to make ends meet and are rapidly getting priced out of the city where we work. For many, especially recent migrants, rehabilitated citizens from the penal system, and the handicapped, restaurant work is one of the few careers open to them. Small businesses like ours provide the foothold that keeps many Seattleites with a roof over their head and keeps their families fed. With the huge uptick in crime, we are all in very real danger of losing our livelihoods, and the same is true for our employees.
Crime isn’t new, we know that. Everyone likes to quote the tired adage that ‘it’s the price of doing business in a city’, but the amount we have been victimized has exponentially increased in the last year. Businesses that never had a issue for five years have filled out a half dozen police reports in as many months. We suffer near weekly break-ins, constant vandalisms, and brazen attempts to jimmy locks on our kitchens and our food trucks. Generators are cut from vehicles and windows are smashed just to get a handful of pennies out of an otherwise empty tip jar. Sometimes glass is getting broken just to snatch a bag of chips and a drink. Thefts are increasingly brazen and repetitive, with perpetrators showing no fear or arrest or repercussions, even hanging around the scene of previous crime, secure that any police response will be minimal or non-existent. It’s happening in every district in the city. With all due respect to the members of the new Small Business Advisory Council, I doubt any of them have to decide between buying a security camera or paying themselves for the week.
I do not exaggerate for the sake of argument. Please allow me to list just a few of the crimes our small businesses have experienced in just the last four or five months:
Farshid Varamini, The People’s Burger/Pioneer Grill:
There are so many more stories like ours in every neighborhood. Each one is being told by someone who has staked almost everything they have to start a business in this city. We work so very hard to keep our heads above water and it doesn’t take much to push us under. At the current rate, without immediate and direct action from those in power to quickly curb property crime and vandalism, the city of Seattle is going to start losing its smallest and most unique businesses and many more people will lose their jobs. Many of our major losses are by organized criminals. Much of the damage is also being done by the drug addicted and desperate. We are watching it happen. We work in the industrial areas, in the cheaper places. We spend all day on the streets and we see what policy makers don’t. Permitting open drug use and failing to prosecute the property crime that supports that drug use is causing an explosion in both. As the population of the addicted grows, we see a direct increase in the destruction of our businesses.
We are witness to a massive failure by the city to protect us.
We understand the city is dealing with very complex issues but we beg that our voice be heard and that we be considered of value too. We need more police, right now. We need police that are free to arrest the criminals that are hurting us and who have the support of city governance to do their job. We need to see some accountability for the individuals committing these crimes. We need to hear from you, in positions of civic power, that the people who are putting it all on the line to start up the smallest businesses in Seattle are worth protecting. We need to break the rings of thieves who are organized and ruthlessly targeting the smallest businesses. Current policy and resource allocation is allowing these predators to thrive in Seattle. We cannot give the criminally active drug addicted a 'pass' either. So many innocent people are being hurt to support the drug habits of desperate users. We strongly believe that homelessness is not a crime, but expect criminal behavior to have consequences regardless of socio-economic standing. We also understand that we can't cure a drug user by arresting them, but we can at least stop them from causing catastrophic damage to the people and businesses around them.
Some of the hardest working and most vulnerable people in the city are seeing their dreams getting derailed, right now.
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