If you think you had it hard during these past few cold months, you should talk to a local food truck owner. Winter is tough on sales for any outdoor food service operator, and this past season was particularly nasty. Spring will bring relief but even that will be short-lived as the following summer months drive customers back into air-conditioned bricks and mortar restaurants.
"You get into this wash, rinse and repeat," says Jeremy Scott, who owns and operates Tutta, a food truck serving freshly baked pizzas loaded with smoked meats. Scott recently looked at his sales through two of these laundry cycles and he's not too excited. "I was expecting a lot more growth," Scott says, and while he knows he can't do anything about the weather, he's hoping some changes to the rules that govern how food trucks operate in Dallas can provide some relief.
There are easier ways to grow a mobile vending business than shaping your local city code. Some operators opt to buy a second truck, allowing them to cover more ground. Others are just using the truck to raise money for a bricks and mortar location. But those measures don't address the root problem: that Dallas' policies are having a negative effect on food businesses with wheels. Scott is one of a growing number of members of the new DFW Food Truck Association, a grassroots organization working to ease these regulations.
"Dallas is very restrictive," says Melinda Haring, an activism manager at the Institute for Justice. Her organization has helped food truck operators in other cities, including Washington D.C., build public support for changes in legislation to help foster robust outdoor vending scenes. She's visited Dallas and provides knowledge and support to local food truck operators here.
"Food trucks in Dallas are banned from public property, except in the Central Business District," Haring says, noting the zone requires special permits in addition to the standard ones. Trucks can park on private property, but only with the owner's permission and only if that owner has restrooms available to the public. Even when operating on private land, food truck operators are required to keep their permits up to date and file itineraries with the city. The paper work can be time consuming and if it's mucked up, you won't be allowed to operate that day.
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The regulations in L.A. focus more strictly on health and safety requirements, which is part of the reason you see so many food trucks parked there. Same with Baton Rouge, a much smaller city that has a sizable food truck scene. "They are very laissez faire," Haring says. Trucks are required to pass a state health inspection and pay $200 for an annual permit and that's it. They can park their trucks about anywhere.
That's why the DFW Food Truck Association recently sent a letter to members of city council, formally introducing the organization. The letter makes no demands, but does spell out the challenges faced by food operators in Dallas, and refutes the common conception that food trucks negatively impact the business of traditional bricks and mortar restaurants.
When asked what he has planned next, Jeremy Scott says they're simply working to raise awareness. They've started a petition to measure support for changes in food truck regulations and they're meet regularly to discuss issues.
Scott says he wants to work with Dallas to help food truck entrepreneurs work profitably, and keep Dallasites are well fed. He also made it clear he doesn't intend on giving up until Dallas' food trucks have more freedom.