NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—A large crowd is expected tonight at what is sure to be a memorable farewell to a Rutgers culinary tradition as the city’s famous grease trucks prepare to leave a Rutgers parking lot that they have called home for 21 years.
Fears that the trucks would be packing up early tonight led hundreds of fat sandwich fans to wait in line patiently for a taste of history last night, as a television news crew broadcast live from the scene of the spectacle.
Even though the university wants them out by Friday, Rutgers says the trucks can stay open until their usual 2am closing tonight.
The university still hasn’t said officially where the trucks will go next.
Two different banners hang from the famous vehicles proclaiming the trucks are moving to two different locations, and at least one of them is wrong.
The latest twist in the saga is that Piscataway Township, home to the school’s Busch and Livingston campuses, has balked at the idea of hosting semi-permanent food trucks, further complicating secret negotiations with the business owners.
According to a letter obtained by New Brunswick Today, several vendors applied for permits with Piscataway, but the township reminded them that they would have to move their food truck every ten minutes if the applications were approved.
“It was my understanding that the township has no jurisdiction over state property,” wrote George Gussis, an attorney collectively representing the owners and operators of the five trucks, in a letter dated yesterday to Township Attorney Michael Baker.
“I know how cooperative the Township was with the University in the granting of a variance for [former Rutgers Football] Coach Schiano to build his personal residence in the Hillcrest section of the Township,” wrote Gussis. “I ask your assistance so my clients are not put ‘out of business’.”
On August 4, New Brunswick Today broke the story that the grease trucks were leaving Lot 8 within two weeks. The following day News 12 New Jersey reported that RUHungry, the largest of the trucks, would be relocating to Rutgers’ Livingston campus in Piscataway.
The truck’s owner also posted on NBT’s Facebook page to tell his customers that “the original grease truck will be relocated less than 2 miles from the current location!”
The next day a banner appeared on one of the trucks advertising “Good News & Bad News,” claiming that “we are relocating to Livingston Campus BUT !! Now We Open till 2 AM & DELIVER.”
But now a grease truck future for Piscataway seems unlikely, despite the historic dominance of state government over the towns.
“Piscataway, they’re trying to make my life harder… We’ll see about Livingston,” said Ayman Elnaggar, the truck’s owner.
A phone call to Piscataway’s public information officer was not immediately returned this afternoon.
Sources say Rutgers has decided not to fight Piscataway on this issue, as important as it may be to some. The township previously engaged the university in litigation over its impact on the town’s schools, due to graduate housing on the Busch campus.
Instead, sources say the 33-foot trailer will have a new home on the New Brunswick side of the Raritan River. Elnaggar confirmed his truck will be relocating to the Douglass campus, at least for the time being.
Rutgers is still quiet on the subject. Spokesman EJ Miranda told New Brunswick Today, “The university continues to work with the operators to finalize their relocation.”
A NJ.com article published yesterday revealed for the first time a potential configuration for the trucks, one that does not include Piscataway at all. The new plans add one truck near the “river dorms” on George Street, not far from the site where two other trucks were already slated, at the intersection of Senior Street and College Avenue.
As we reported last Friday, Rutgers abandoned plans to implement an open public bidding process for food vendors, and gave the trucks just over one month’s notice they had to leave their home of 21 years.
Asked how the plans for a public process were shelved, Miranda said, “The university currently has a limited number of campus locations available for mobile food vendors. Because of their long-standing presence on the Rutgers campus, the university wanted to offer all of the existing food truck operators the first opportunity to occupy these slots.”
“In the coming months, the university will determine the most effective process to provide opportunities for additional mobile food vendors who will offer a variety of food options to the campus community.”
According to our readers, the grease trucks have a lineage dating back to 1931 when mobile food carts began appearing on the streets that run through Rutgers campus.
“There is an article about the history in the December 3, 1973 Targum. You can find it on the Targum microfilm reels on the bottom floor of the Alexander Library on College Avenue,” wrote an astute reader.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.