Restaurants say food trucks are eating up their profits

WASHINGTON - A food fight is playing out on a growing number of American streets.

According to a new study, more than 4,100 food trucks are now open for business in nearly 300 cities. For owners of older and less mobile restaurants, those numbers are a little hard to swallow.

Customers couldn't wait for the first truck to open in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.

"It's been hard to set up because so many people have been banging on the window trying to get us to open up," the operator said.

Customers line up outside a food truck. CBS News

Across the country, the culinary upstarts are so successful that they may be disrupting the traditional restaurant business.

Gavin Coleman owns The Dubliner in Washington, D.C.

"I don't hate food trucks," he said, but added, "I think they make it tougher on the restaurants to survive."

From the moment food trucks started lining up right outside, he says, some profits from his crucial lunch hour crowd disappeared - and never came back.

"We depend on these peak hours of service and lunch being one of them. So to have food trucks come in and sit right outside of my door and take away from that peak hour makes it tough to survive the other 18 hours that we're open," Coleman said.

Concerns over competition, safety and public health have divided cities on how best to regulate food trucks.

Chicago bans them within 200 feet of a restaurant. Pittsburgh is among the toughest, forcing operators to move every 30 minutes.

But a third of communities surveyed by the National League of Cities had no time limits on food trucks and half of them didn't ban them near restaurants, or had lenient restrictions.

Instead of fighting the trend, established D.C. restaurant Guapos launched its own food truck.

Owner Veronica Syler says her mobile kitchen cooked up new customers.

"It's actually brought back more than what we expected. They have actually discovered some of our locations," she said.

But across town, Coleman won't do the same.

He's betting his family's pub, serving Irish fare in the same spot for 40 years, can still satisfy customers hungry for a choice.