Courtesy of Saba Rahimian

Goodbye Sacramento. Hello Austin.

To illustrate the initial size of her Sacramento-based food-truck dream for Granola Girl, owner Saba Rahimian sits across from me at The Mill holding up her hands about two feet apart — big enough to hold a prize-winning pumpkin. She wanted to establish a food truck destination (much like what you find in, say Portland or Seattle) in her East Sacramento neighborhood replete with picnic tables and strings of globe lights. And she was able to park her food truck around town, participate in food-truck meet-ups and events, and even to run her dream spot for a little while. However, her hands got closer and closer together as she explained what she laments is the limiting and confounding process that is the city’s labyrinth of hoops, red tape, and run-arounds.

Her story continued and her hands narrowed to the size of a head of cauliflower…

Rahimian acquired permit after permit after permit. Each time she thought she was done, the city mentioned yet another requirement that seemingly hadn’t been there before. Calling one office only to be directed to some link from another department, she thought she’d cracked the code. She was wrong.

…and then her hands were only wide enough to hold a bunch of carrots…

Having attended a hearing, visited various city offices to ask questions, paying for this, that and the other thing, and — despite following what she thought were all the rules — Rahimian had been deemed a “public nuisance.”

…and by the time she’d finished relaying her saga, her hands were close enough together to hold one single, solitary beet…

She was beat, and has decided to beat it. Despite being born and raised in Sacramento, after a notice showed up on her door with a threat to put a lien on her food-truck property, she’d had it. Having just paid a new $1500 fee, she couldn’t figure out what more she could do.

And so, attention Austinites: be on the lookout for a new food truck in town serving up superfood-forward, organic, healthy, street-food inspired fare.

This sobering shrinking-hand image of what Rahimian describes as a “chipping away at a big idea” is what concerns her for future innovators. Here’s someone trying to sell vibrant,  thoughtful, local-farm supporting foods in the Farm-to-Fork Capital of the country and she feels she can’t. We’re losing a committed, optimistic small-business owner.

But apparently, help is on the horizon? In his 2016 State of the City address, Mayor Kevin Johnson claimed we are “on the verge of greatness” as he focused heavily on the need to attract idea-people and to make Sacramento a city that encourages innovation. And perhaps we are. In its “Why Sacramento?” section, the City of Sacramento’s website boasts the city’s convenient geographical location, rich cultural fabric and access to government and education — which all do sound great on paper.

The problem, Rahimian contends, is in the application of these ideals. Or, maybe it’s just a matter of right place, wrong time: “This is my hometown. If I can come back [after Austin], that’s my best hope. In the long term, I haven’t given up on Sacramento, but for what I’m trying to do now, the timing was off.”

For now, Rahimian’s passion surrounding the need for friendly, accessible business practices in Sacramento belies the lack of caffeine in her herbal tea as she points out common stumbling blocks for young entrepreneurs trying to get their idea off the ground in this city and offers some suggestions for creating a smoother process.

Some potential hurdles for new business owners trying to make a go of it in Sacramento, according to Rahimian:

  • Permitting costs + business costs, period.
  • Permit requirements are disorganized and inaccessible (not centralized).
  • Departments can be dismissive and unresponsive. Be aware of the fact that you’re entering an infrastructure that’s difficult to navigate.
  • The City can often seem focused more on dollars and cents than on common sense.
  • If you’re an innovator and they don’t have any requirement on the books, they might make a requirement for you.
  • Be prepared for some resistance — and a lack of mapping — for how to be successful, especially if you’re trying to do something new. The strangest part is that innovation is what people talk about all the time in this town, but the practical, applicable follow-through is lacking.

Forbes just announced that Austin tops its “The Next Biggest Boom Town” list. Rahimian’s advice to help us get there:

  • Make sure you do your due diligence. If you’re trying to break the mold, it’s a hard mold to crack. Be cautious.
  • Dear City of Sacramento: Make the process more workable; create options for people to come here and test this city out. (Having done her research prior to the upcoming Austin move, Rahimian found their Small Business Program refreshingly seamless and encouraging, what with its weekly workshops, coaching program, and help center.)
  • Before the city puts more money into building locations for these [innovations] to happen, they need to look at why they’re not happening in the spaces we have now. Rather than expanding and building and going out and up and out and up, let’s use the charm that’s already here. Much like Rainey Street in Austin that revamped a dilapidated residential street into a hub for live music and food-truck lots, Sacramento doesn’t need to expand beyond what’s here. What makes a city thrive is the charm that already exists. If you’re adding and adding, you’re missing the mark.
  • Not only do cities need entrepreneurs, but entrepreneurs need cities. They need for cities to help provide guiding infrastructure, and a supportive climate. No one’s arguing for hand-holding here, but if a city wants growth potential, culture, and economic vitality, it needs to foster a system that encourages diversity. Just because someone is doing something different doesn’t mean they should be forced to find loopholes and to piecemeal together their plan. Rather, cities need to provide the right steps for creatives to get their vision out to the people.

We wish Granola Girl the best of luck on her adventure and hope to see her and — after her Texan success — a second truck toting her green grilled cheese, bourbon mushroom chowder and plantain tamales back in Sac, where they belong, real soon.

If, miraculously, Rahimian is able to navigate her current permit situation before she leaves at the beginning of March, the goal is to have a see-you-later tour during her final two weeks. Fingers crossed.