|Hungry Los Altos High School students who prefer the tasty offerings at a catering truck just off campus may have to settle for cafeteria food if school administrators have their way.
The truck began stopping at the school earlier in the year, and immediately attracted a large following, including some faculty members who like the varied menu offered by Julie Nguyen, the truck's owner.
But district officials are evidently concerned that the cafeteria is losing popularity, and that students may be ignoring the school's healthier offerings. So they've asked the Los Altos City Council to ban the truck from the school's neighborhood.
That would certainly disappoint the many students who lined up on Tuesday with dollars in hand to order cheese steak burritos, fries and sodas from Nguyen's truck, parked on Jardin Avenue next to the school.
Students say the food they get from the truck is better than that offered by the school's cafeteria, which they say is not very appealing. (The cafeteria offered egg rolls, chow mein and milk on Tuesday.) Nguyen, 46 and a Vietnamese immigrant, offers fruit salads, water, Polish sausages, egg salads and BLTs.
"This is real food," said ninth grader Carlos Chavez.
"The cafeteria doesn't have any of this stuff -- burgers and hot dogs," said Roger Peterson, a tenth grader.
The students said they didn't know high school officials were trying to prevent Nguyen from selling her food there.
Last April the high school district proposed to the Los Altos City Council that it pass a "mobile food vendor ordinance," which would ban food-catering trucks from parking within 500 feet of school premises and limit their parking time to 10 minutes, Superintendent Barry Groves said. The council held its regular meeting Tuesday night but took no action on the issue.
The district has a "healthy foods initiative," and students are buying food through Nguyen that the school wouldn't serve, Groves said. It's also a litter problem, he added.
"It does create some issues in terms of supervision and garbage for us," Principal Wynne Satterwhite said, as she monitored students eating near the truck on Tuesday. "When we have 100 kids down here, it means we have to pull one of our campus security persons here to make sure the kids are behaving," she said.
When asked why they buy food from the "taco truck," students rattled off a laundry list of complaints about the cafeteria food.
"It's always the same thing," said tenth grader Alex Amaya.
"It has no flavor," said Pressy Mejia, also a tenth grader.
"No one likes the food in there," said Jenny Montalvo, an eleventh grader. "It's kinda crappy."
Los Altos City Council member Ron Packard, who visited the site Tuesday to talk to students, also bought a burrito.
"As far as I can tell no one has gotten sick from the food," Packard said. While the council is leaning towards banning the truck, he said, if students showed up at a council meeting to talk about how much they enjoyed its food, the council would keep an open mind.
Nguyen said she paid about $120 to purchase a permit from the city to sell food to students. She hired one cook, and began selling the food about eight months ago. She also sells to high school students in Menlo Park, and on a good day, she said, she can make more than $500.
Nguyen also did not know Los Altos school officials were trying to ban her truck.
"I just stop here for the children," she said. "They say good food. They like my food." She used to park down the street and students would follow her down the street to eat, she said.
"If I had a contract with them then I can go in there with them all day," Nguyen added, pointing towards the school. "Maybe better."
A couple teachers, staff and administrators also visited Nguyen's catering truck and bought food.
"It works out real good. The kids just like it with all the diversity. The price is better and the food is better than the cafeteria," said one employee of the high school who did not want to give his name.
Are you receiving Express, our free daily e-mail edition? See a sample and sign-up for Express.