New rules for food trucks debated across the Triangle
February 02, 2011
If 2010 was the year that food trucks gained momentum in the Triangle, then 2011 looks like it will bring an explosion of new trucks to the region.
Already, plans have been announced for several new food trucks, including trucks from Crook’s Corner and Will and Pops in Carrborro, and Ko Kyu and Pie Pushers in Durham, among others.
Granted, not everyone likes having food trucks on the streets. There have been complaints from Raleigh (and Durham) restaurateurs that food trucks undercut traditional restaurants with a lower capital investment and no need to provide seating and bathrooms.
Food trucks are starting to get regulatory attention from all corners of the Triangle. Raleigh is currently revising their food truck laws, which has brought heated public hearings that pit truck lovers against restaurant owners. Chapel Hill has also been requested to create an information source for aspiring four-wheeled entrepreneurs, in order to provide clarity to their current regulations.
These moves in Raleigh and Chapel Hill grow out of what truck owners see as a disadvantage to operating in these towns versus Durham -- even as brick-and-mortar establishments in both cities fret about competition on rubber tires.
Outside of the downtown zone, Durham food trucks can only operate with temporary permits, which can last no more than a total of 90 days. These rules have caused problems for some Durham food carts, including Joey D’s NY Dogs.
Joe Scarfo was told his position near LaSalle and Erwin, near Duke Hospital, would need both the temporary use permit and a bathroom for patron’s use.
Limits on the number of hours per day that a truck can operate in a single spot also exist outside of downtown.
There has been some talk in Durham about re-visiting food truck rules; since the beginning of the year, at least two citizens have submitted petitions asking the city to re-examine food truck rules.
Food trucks are also getting an academic treatment as well, with Lindsay Moriarty, a City & Regional Planning student at UNC Chapel Hill, looking at the impact of food trucks on economic and community development in the Triangle.
Despite the huge upswing in food truck popularity across the US, no one has actually tried to inventory the effect of food trucks on downtown communities, says Moriarty. As cities both locally and across the US look to revise laws surrounding food trucks, it helps for these cities to have a complete picture of food trucks effects on entrepreneurship, city image, street activation, and the larger food economy.
Moriarty’s been busy interviewing food truck owners, restaurateurs, food truck patrons, and city officials. She’s also set up an online survey for Triangle residents to weigh in with their opinions on food trucks.
As it is research, a standard warning must be given:
Are you interested in the emergence and popularity of food trucks in the triangle area? If so, please consider filling out this brief online survey on the issue. Lindsay Moriarty, a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill in the Department of City and Regional Planning, will be using this data in her master’s research paper (IRB # 11- 0080), which explores the roles food trucks might play in community and economic development, and the related policy implications. The survey will take no longer than 5 minutes to complete, and your responses will be completely anonymous. Participation in this research is completely voluntary, and you may skip any question that you do not want to answer. Additionally, you can withdraw at any time.
And another disclaimer: Ms. Moriarty is the author's girlfriend. To take the survey, follow this link.
New rules in Raleigh and Chapel Hill are expected by this summer, with the public hearing schedules in both of these towns already under way. At last check, Durham has yet to start a revision of its food truck regulations.
Food truck laws/regulations are a classic example of "crony capitalism." The (comparatively) wealthy restaurant owners use their influence with the local government to issue regulations, not for the sake of the health or safety of the general public, but rather to cripple their business competitors. The end result is that consumers are left with fewer choices and higher prices... exactly what the restaurant owners want.
I'm glad to live in Durham where food trucks are less restricted (and delicious!), but the restrictions should be loosened further. People who are in favor of liberty, against government handouts to business, and love delicious food at reasonable prices should support a drastic reduction in food truck regulations across the Triangle.
Posted by: thatyounglaw | February 02, 2011 at 10:05 AM
Yes, fewer and looser regulations.
We've seen how well that philosophy worked out with bad mortgages, failed banks, Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, unlimited campaign financing by businesses, the stock market crash, high capacity magazines for pistols, leaking oil wells, soaring private health care costs, hidden credit card fees, tainted eggs, spinach, peanuts, lettuce, etc., etc.
Welcome to our Libertarian Dystopia where Might Make$ Right.
I love food trucks, oppose crony capitalism (and have enough faith in my comments to use my real name), and believe there is room for loosening the regs on food trucks.
But let's not throw out the reasonable regulation baby with the libertarian bathwater.
Posted by: Frank Hyman | February 02, 2011 at 10:54 AM
Actually, no, it's not crony capitalism or regulatory capture. It's not about entrenched interests trying to set up anti-competitive barriers to entry.
Restaurant owners are forced to comply with (sometimes onerous) regulations. It's reasonable that they wish food trucks had to comply as well. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander," and such. If neither were regulated, or both were regulated in the same way, it would be different.
The govt. has set up health & safety regulations as barriers to enter the brick & mortar restaurant world which everyone from McDonald's to Magnolia Grill have to comply with. Hotdog carts, food trucks, and ladies selling tamales out of the trunk of their car should have to comply as well (or, alternatively, those regulations **aren't** necessary for health and safety, are anti-competitive, work to keep people in poverty, and should be removed).
The food truck lobby wants to have their tacos and eat them too.
Posted by: T.Star | February 02, 2011 at 10:58 AM
In a town like Durham where almost all the downtown restaurants are owned and operated by local residents employing local residents, it seems to me there should be some restrictions to food trucks. If a restaurant and a food truck served exactly the same food, same ingredients same quality there is no way a restaurant could match the same price as that truck. So to have a truck potentially be parked next door to any given restaurant, serving potentially the same food just doesn't seem right. Also, would think most of these so called "wealthy" restaurant owners are probably carrying a good amount of debt and overhead to keep these brick and mortar places open.
Posted by: John | February 02, 2011 at 11:04 AM
I still don't see how restaurateurs feel threatened by food trucks.
If I were them, I'd feel much more threatened by other restaurants opening up.
Posted by: tjd | February 02, 2011 at 11:15 AM
they seem like two pretty distinct markets to me. if i want to go out to eat, i'm not going to choose a food truck and sit in the grass over a comfortable air conditioned (or heated) environment. likewise, if i'm in a hurry for a quick tasty dinner on the go, i'm not going to call rue cler for takeout. i don't think that leveling the playing field is an appropriate discussion to have when one's on grass and the other is on clay. and some level of regulation is good for health and safety reasons, but c'mon, let's not over-regulate the crap out of this and squash the burgeoning culture.
Posted by: bb | February 02, 2011 at 11:16 AM
I live downtown and eat at downtown restaurants and food trucks multiple times a week.
Restaurants= beer and dining
Food trucks = My daughter is incapable of sitting still and needs a picnic...or Only Burger is around with their crack delicious fries.
both = asset to my community
Additionally downtown, the food trucks are often serving in hours and locations that are traditionally underserved with food. We get burgers or locopops at the Farmer's Market before Rue Cler opens for brunch or sausage at Fullsteam after Kings is closed or bar/restaurant kitchens have closed for the night.
There are only so many times in one's life that you want to compete with the duke students in line at Cosmic on a weekend. Food Trucks give us lovely alternatives.
Posted by: Natalie | February 02, 2011 at 11:31 AM
BB is right about the distinct markets and I've not been to the Only Burger truck since the brick and mortar store opened (burgers being easier to eat sitting down at a table than in car in a parking lot). Maybe food trucks compete with Cosmic Cantina takeout, but my consumption of Cosmic has not decreased, especially since I can call for pick-up, which I can't do with a food truck. Food trucks also offer drastically different food than most of the different Durham area restuarants. I can't get a Korean taco at a restaurant nor is there a place for me to get easy Indian takeout. I can get takeout from Dale's or Sitar, but it's not easy.
Posted by: Jennifer | February 02, 2011 at 12:06 PM
@ Frank Hyman
1. I'm glad that we both agree that the restrictions on food trucks should be loosened. Sounds like we're pretty much coming from the same place :)
2. Bad mortgages, failed banks, Bernie Madoff, and private health care (co-incidentally some of the most heavily regulated sectors of the economy) are irrelevant to food trucks in Durham.
3. For a bit more info on how city regulations have hurt a formerly unemployed man trying to make it with a pizza truck in Raleigh, check out this episode of the always excellent The Story, with Dick Gordon:
Posted by: thatyounglaw | February 02, 2011 at 12:12 PM
We can either prevent nasty intestinal issues with some up-front regulations, or deal with the consequences afterwards (lots of downtown port-a-potties?). I don't think it would serve Durham well to have a reputation for "buyer-beware" food carts, and, I'm guessing, it would take just a few unsanitary, back-of-the-car-in-the-middle-of-summer food carts to earn it.
As few regulations as needed for as much protection as possible, right? Doesn't that mean inspected refrigeration and food preparation?
Posted by: Will Wilson | February 02, 2011 at 01:01 PM
It is my understanding that to get a permit to operate a food truck (yes...food trucks must have permits), they must have a health department approved brick and mortar kitchen where all food preparation takes place. Not every food truck has its own kitchen. Some "rent" time in existing restaurant or catering kitchens. But all of the ones operating legally have an inspected and approved kitchen somewhere as well as having their trucks inspected.
Posted by: tess of the durhamvilles | February 02, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Tess is absolutely correct. At issue here are the rules on where food trucks can park, and how long they can stay there (along with requirements to provide seating and trash facilities). All food trucks must be inspected by the health department, and no one wants to change that.
By the way, you can check the latest inspection from a food truck (or any other establishment) at this website:
Posted by: Rob Gillespie | February 02, 2011 at 01:28 PM
Just to clarify, my research will examine both zoning regulations and health and sanitation guidelines. Both sets of issues have been brought up in arguments of unfair competition between food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants, and therefor have significant policy implications for local municipalities.
Posted by: Lindsay Moriarty | February 02, 2011 at 01:39 PM
I meant late late when the kids are drunk and the line stretches down the stairs almost to Perry St.
Posted by: Natalie | February 02, 2011 at 01:57 PM
I'm fundamentally opposed to any protectionist-oriented regulation that stifles competition among different types of businesses. A fixed restaurant can operate for many, many hours a day, in any weather. A well-run restaurant can make orders of magnitude more money than a food truck.
We are a foodie culture. Limiting innovation, creativity, and a new, popular form of food culture will lower the tide for all, not raise it.
There's a big difference between "playing to win" vs. "playing not to lose". A restaurant complaining about competition is trying to solve a problem with the wrong solution.
Posted by: Scott Harmon | February 02, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Are you saying it is okay for an architecture firm to offer the same product as you do for only half the price..........They would do the same job,research all the material, do the same drawings, you get the story. So, put all of them outside your front door on Main St and see if it hurts you........
They have no overhead, taxes, abc permits, no bathrooms/water etc, It is a cash business also, how much sales tax/revenue is reported by a food truck and how much sales tax is lost from a restaurant. Restaurants do not get bothered by other restaurants as they both pay the same price.
Also, maybe 10 bar/restaurants have opened up in the last 2 years and not one restaurant owner to my knowledge has complained about competition......
Posted by: marcus white | February 02, 2011 at 04:31 PM
My comment sounded a bit anti-food-cart, which I'm not. Just anti-E.-coli.
Posted by: Will Wilson | February 02, 2011 at 05:28 PM
@that young law
You make a lot of unfounded assumptions esp. about how "we are coming pretty much coming from the same place." I do not think so.
I live in a reality based world where all the items you list in #2 are clearly insufficiently regulated.
And, I'm not without confidence or the courage of my convictions to take the very small step of using my own name rather than using an incoherent alias. Many of the people that post on BCR (and that have thoughtful things to add) use their real name. What's keeping you I wonder.
Posted by: Frank Hyman | February 02, 2011 at 05:29 PM
It is critical that Mr. Hyman be able to critique you individually before he can consider the veracity of anything you write.
PS - Frank, can we go get some Only Burger tonight?
Posted by: Frank Hyman's Tummy | February 02, 2011 at 06:25 PM
In the year 2525, if man is still alive, there will be food trucks everywhere I'd like to drive, and no restaurants left to thrive.
Posted by: Sabrina L | February 02, 2011 at 06:47 PM
I'm not sure I agree with the comments about being undercut on prices when Upper Middle Class Meals on Wheels run $10 for a burger, $6 for a sausage or $3 for a cupcake.
umm, a cupcake sounds good right about now.
Posted by: Will | February 02, 2011 at 08:19 PM
I'm curious -- how do these arguments compare to the discussions when restaurants started up drive-through windows? Many of the comparisons are the same -- if I go through the drive-through, the restaurant does not have to provide me seating, lavatories or any infrastructure other than the styrofoam clamshell.
Seeing how this played out in the 70s (?) would be a nice comparison.
Posted by: Steve Nicewarner | February 02, 2011 at 08:23 PM
While I work in a different business (IT), I know exactly what you mean. I compete against Intrex, BestBuy/Geek Squad and CompUSA for people's tech support dollars, and those outfits charge a lot less than I do. Does it bother me? Sure, but I also feel confident that folks are getting different services at those places and that our customers are choosing our services at our different price for a reason.
I think the same is true of the food trucks. While the food trucks don't have to pay directly for bathrooms, water, abc permits, etc, they also don't offer bathrooms, water, or beer/wine/drinks. Nor do you get tables, chairs, service, or refills.
As for taxes, I can't think of any taxes that food trucks don't pay that restaurants do, or vice versa.
Oh, and not all food trucks are cash only. I bought sausages the other week using my credit card (they had an iPhone cradle where you swiped the card and signed on the screen). Of course, that doesn't stop them from failing to report taxes, it just makes it harder to cover up.
Posted by: Jamie Gruener | February 02, 2011 at 08:45 PM
I'd like to remind everyone that Blue Mountain Catering - a brick and mortar restaurant downtown that predated Chicken and Waffles- was the last restaurant I heard that was investigated, convicted, and fined for not paying their taxes.
It is an opinion not supported by evidence that food trucks are somehow out to skirt as many laws as possible.
Posted by: Natalie | February 03, 2011 at 06:29 AM
People pick an architect, or a restaurant for that matter, based on the product or the work, as well as the price. In this economic downturn, many architects have been laid off and work out of their homes for a fraction of what we charge. I would never suggest that the City or State should regulate them as a means of protecting my business.
My business depends upon our being responsive to our clients, offering the best services we can, constantly improving and responding to the market, and competing with everyone else in the industry that offers similar services, whether they be in their home-office, their van, or in an office across the street.
Another interesting fact is that while we frequent the food trucks in downtown, it is by no means the only place we eat lunch. In fact, we visit a food truck about once every two weeks. The rest of the time we go to restaurants. We eat lunch at places that offer great food. Sometimes we want to grab and go. Sometimes we want to sit and visit. Sometimes I have $5 to spend on lunch. Sometimes I have $15.
Protectionism is bad for business...period. It promotes mediocrity, discourages innovation, and ultimately flattens the character and richness of honest commerce.
Posted by: Scott Harmon | February 03, 2011 at 10:05 AM
I don't think anyone here wants to get rid of food trucks but a little discussion as to how and where they do business at a city level is needed. Scott, maybe you should design a parking spot for visiting food trucks into all of the future restaurants that you design?
Posted by: John | February 03, 2011 at 10:36 AM
"John" wins the non-sequitur award. Yes, Scott's position clearly is that restaurants should facilitate their competition.
I really would love to know which restaurateurs were complaining about the food trucks. Without names to put to complaints, it's hard to know if these are well-run restaurants suffering acute financial distress, or incompetent McDonald's franchise owners looking for someone to blame their business failures on. Do Wimpy's Grill and King's Sandwich Shop gain a competitive advantage by not having to provide seating, or do they lose out on a customer base that wants to sit down in exchange for lower costs?
The complaints in the N&O article seem to center around a pizza truck parking in front of a pizza restaurant, which does seem reasonable. If it doesn't already exist, I could support a regulation that required food truck owners to get the permission of the property owner (or lease holder) before parking in the right-of-way in front of a parcel. That said, every food truck I've patronized in Durham has parked with the blessing of the local business, whether it's Wachovia, Fullsteam, Motorco, Sam's Blue Light, the Farmer's Market, or Duke University. So what's the big deal?
Posted by: Michael Bacon | February 03, 2011 at 11:10 AM
Brick and mortar restaurants do pay property taxes, while food trucks do not. Some restaurant owners don't think that food truck owners are doing their part for the community because they don't pay property taxes.
Restaurants may also facilitate the improvement and stability of a neighborhood in a way that a food truck cannot. I wonder if the area around Fullsteam and Motorco would redevelop faster if they had a few restaurants with stable menus and regular hours on that block rather than having to rely on the awkward scheduling of food trucks?
Posted by: James | February 03, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I for one think this passionate debate typifies my love for Durham. Not only do we have a rich bevy of creative entrepreneurs throwing business ideas at us left and right, we have citizens and neighbors with strong opinions that they express freely! Food trucks make Durham unique, why stomp on that? And if a pizza truck is parked in front of a pizza joint, it’s likely I wouldn’t be giving that rude truck my business anyway. Running a restaurant is a tough business and should be respected as such. I’d love to hear what Tom of Only Burger thinks of this debate, he has a truck and a bricks and mortar…definitely an expert on both models!
Posted by: Sarah | February 03, 2011 at 01:58 PM
Mr Hyman -
If another commenter chooses to use a pseudonym, how does that affect you personally? You seem pretty bent out of shape about it. I'd point out that on the internet we have no way of verifying identity anyway, but I'm not sure that matters to you.
Either way, whether you believe in more regulation or less, in the "reality based world" we live in, there's really not a single thing we touch, or interact with, or use, in our every day lives, that isn't densely regulated at either the state or Federal level (or usually both).
Yet you claim a litany of items are "clearly insufficiently regulated". What additional regulations would you want to apply to "bad mortgages, failed banks, Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme, unlimited campaign financing by businesses, the stock market crash, high capacity magazines for pistols, leaking oil wells, soaring private health care costs, hidden credit card fees, tainted eggs, spinach, peanuts, or lettuce" that would suddenly fix everything and allay all your concerns?
Our problems with bad mortgages, banks, and Madoff, had to do with individuals or corporations exploiting previously-undiscovered loopholes in the morass of regulations already being applied to them. Close the loopholes? Congress (via lobbyists) will just open another one!
Leaking oil wells? I agree, what happened with the Deepwater Horizon was a tragedy, and one from which I doubt we will ever fully recover. It was also heavily regulated by the Minerals Management Service, whose brave regulators performed inspections that were (according to the AP) "for the most part brief, perfunctory, extremely lax," and with "poor recordkeeping". I hope you'll understand if I don't think we need more of that.
I could go on, but I'm self-regulating the length of my blog comments.
Posted by: Alex Sterling | February 03, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Every business pays property taxes. Owners of real property (real estate and buildings) pay real property taxes based on the value of those parcels.
All businesses pay personal property taxes on the value of their equipment and leasehold improvements. This is true for trucks, refrigerators, computers, cash registers, I-Phones, everything.
Your understanding of taxes is incorrect.
Posted by: Scott Harmon | February 03, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I was referring to real estate property taxes. I thought that the specific type of taxes could be assumed because they are (1) a large portion of general property taxes paid and (2) the key difference between the two types of businesses.
Speaking for myself, when someone refers to property taxes, I immediately think of real property.
I thank you for your clarification, even though I don't believe that it was necessary.
I take this concern directly from a Raleigh restaurant owner.
Posted by: James | February 03, 2011 at 03:41 PM
^hehe, I was about to try to register my car as a food truck if that gets me out of paying taxes on it.
Posted by: Steven | February 03, 2011 at 03:42 PM
Umm, how many restaurant owners actually own their own building??? I would be willing to bet that if they did own their own building, the property tax would be one of their lowest expense categories.
This is a ridiculous argument. Payroll taxes, income taxes, collecting sales tax, those are the real community benefits paid by restaurant and small business owners...
The bottom line is that Durham restaurant owners could give a flip about the food trucks... half the people that own these food trucks worked in a Durham restaurant at one time or another, and outgrew their role. Everybody knows everybody here. This is a Raleigh problem, not a Durham one.
Posted by: Beibar | February 03, 2011 at 06:28 PM
@ John (and others)
Count me out, I would love to get rid of food trucks. You can't tell me the people who work in those trucks (especially when working solo) never have to go to the bathroom. Go ahead, crawl in the back door of one and you'll find the plastic milk jug for urinating under the counter; I guarantee you. For those that would point out that a high tech, expensive truck contains a real bathroom (and somewhere to wash your hands after using it), that's the outlier. Let's all agree that MOST of the food trucks contain no bathroom other than a plastic bottle.
Moving on, another concern is trash. So, the food truck is a good citizen, has a trash can outside and polices the rented area for trash at "the ed of the day". QUESTION: What do they do with the trash can? You guessed it. They bring it in to "the kitchen" (When was the last time YOU would bring your outdoor trash can into your kitchen?). And when that trash can gets spilled on, puked on, or simply messy, they just hose it down...oops, wait a sec; they have no way to do so other than detergent spray and paper towels. Wait a sec, where do they keep the detergent spray? In an area away from the foodstuffs like the inspectors make restaurants do? Not a chance, the bottle sits inside the truck (most likely next to the aforementioned pee jug).
I'm sorry, folks can eat from these trucks if they'd like, but given the types of minute issues that get cited in a restaurant's inspections violations, there ain't no way a food truck could pass using the same criteria.
Just wait till this summer, and check out the "Skins" truck on East Holloway, in front of the Advance Auto Parts store...who do you see eating the skins? You guessed it, Inspections' employees. And I guarantee you, like so many other "food trucks", that nasty old truck does NOT get inspected.
Seriously, if you think these trucks are as clean as a residential kitchen, much less a commercial kitchen, I've got some land in Florida to sell ya.
Posted by: Burt Lichter | February 03, 2011 at 09:42 PM
Doesn't the landlord pass along the property tax to the renter? I never understood the arguement that if a person rents, they don't pay taxes. Maybe they don't pay property taxes directly, but I bet the landlord factors all his costs into the rent.
Also, I don't think the overhead on all the food trucks is as low as some people believe. I read an article about Only Burger a while ago and I believe the cost of the truck, etc was in the six figure range.
@ Will W - I like your comment the best - we should all be anti E coli and I would hope the truck itself is inspected regardless of where the food prep takes place.
Posted by: I heart Durham | February 03, 2011 at 09:50 PM
@ Burt Lichter:
I think you summed up many of the concerns about food trucks very eloquently. I agree they can be real concerns, and completely respect your opinion, and your desire not to purchase food from them.
However, I'm wondering if you think this is reason enough for them to be outlawed completely?
In other words, shouldn't "caveat emptor" be what governs one's personal decisions on whether or not to buy food from a food truck? More specifically, if I'm willing to forgo any of the concerns you mentioned, should I be prohibited from buying from a food truck?
Posted by: Alex Sterling | February 03, 2011 at 10:00 PM
Those who choose a brick and mortar business make a choice. Why are their interests valued above the interest of those who make other choices in times of economic uncertainty?
Go food trucks!
Go DIY businesses of all types!
Posted by: Shannon Morrow | February 04, 2011 at 11:59 AM
I am going to go ahead and assume you are kidding. If you are not, then you are way off base on the sanitary practices of food trucks. Food trucks are required to park near a bathroom. There is no pee jug on the truck. They are also usually outfitted with running water, and even soap! Any cleaning and prep work is done at a home base comissionary, so everything is as clean as any restaurant. Trucks are also inspected by the same guy who inspects brick and moartar joints. There are restrictions trucks must follow to insure safety and sanitition. Food trucks are so much more than some dude selling grilled cheese off a hotplate in the back of a van.
Posted by: fletch | February 04, 2011 at 01:34 PM
Really looks like government over reaching to me.
Let capitalism work and decide where patrons want to spend their dollars.
As long as the public and the workers health are not at risk I don't believe it's the job of the city to decide where and when they can operate.
Posted by: JG | February 07, 2011 at 03:24 PM