More to chew on

Business people and bureaucrats meet for the second time to discuss food trucks and carts

Over the last few years, the food truck movement has been one of the country’s fastest growing culinary trends. The nouveau chuck wagons have gone from fringe culture in  ber–hip spots like Austin, TX and Portland, OR to an increasingly national phenomenon, including a food truck–based reality TV show on the Food Network.

True to her nature, Savannah remains well behind the curve of early adopters, even as spots like Charleston begin to indulge their street tooth.

More than 40 local entrepreneurs converged on the Creative Coast office for the second in a series of meetings to discuss ordinances and regulations with officials from the City and the Health Department — part of an ongoing effort to iron out the convoluted web of rules hindering mobile food vending in the Hostess City.

“We know how to make things move slowly,” said Jake Hodesh, the Executive Director of the Creative Coast, who helped organize the meetings. “Let’s figure out how to make them move quickly.”

Clarity on the issues remains fleeting, and frustration amongst the entrepreneurial set was palpable at times.

“We get a bad rap, and sometimes that’s justified,” said Todd Jones, the Environmental Health Director with the Health Department, who was the featured official at the meeting.  The first meeting included Randolph Scott, the City’s Zoning Administrator, and Tom Vanderhorst, the City’s Director of Revenue — both of whom showed up for last week’s meeting as well.

Jones stressed to the audience that there is “a misconception” about the different types of mobile units, and that became clear as the meeting continued.

Two topics demanding the most attention were requirements for ownership of a commissary — a physical spot where mobile vendors return each night to store their carts, clean their equipment, etc. — and questions about where mobile units can be located, which segued back into questions about city zoning.

Many mobile food enthusiasts find the commissary rule troubling because having a physical location (which must be owned by the cart owner, and cannot be shared) defeats the purpose of having a mobile unit. However, after some clarification from Jones, the actual requirements for the commissary space didn’t seem as onerous as the additional cost of maintaining such a space.

Issues of location are murky, and confusion over regulations is exacerbated by oversight from two departments (Health and  Zoning) with conflicting rules. The Health Department allows for two mobile locations so long as a vendor submits locations in advance. However, zoning within city limits prohibits mobile vendors from establishing locations for business.

If a food service vehicle is moving continuously (except when it stops to make a sale), that is allowed under rules for peddlers (but not allowed by the Health Department, which requires a map of locations for inspection purposes). Zoning regulations will not allow mobile vendors to set up in a single location all day for fear that it would lead to a proliferation of blight and traffic issues, as well as damage existing brick and mortar businesses.

Scott pointed out several times that there is very little existing language in the local ordinances governing food carts and trucks, so in some cases rules default to those that regulate restaurants. One course of action available to street food advocates is to draft a text amendment that would be submitted to council and staff for consideration.