RALEIGH — More and more, Triangle residents who aspire to own a restaurant are starting their food empires in the backs of massive trucks.
But food truck owners in Raleigh and Chapel Hill are struggling to start their entrepreneurial engines, thanks to a major roadblock: They can't park on city streets.
They hope leaders will change that, as the issue makes its way through both communities' governments in the coming weeks.
"This is what I really love to do," said Mike Stenke, who started the square-pan Klausie's Pizza truck this year with a small loan and a credit card. "But if Raleigh doesn't open up the streets, I'm not sure this business can keep going."
At the urging of current and aspiring food truck owners, both Raleigh and Chapel Hill are considering changes to their regulations on street vending. Even though food trucks aren't banned on all streets or on private properties, owners say heavy restrictions on city streets keep them from making money.
Things are different in Durham, where the food truck scene is exploding. Food merchants are free to park on most city streets and on Duke University's campus. Students can even use their meal cards to buy food from the trucks.
Restaurants on wheels serving Indian food, burgers and Korean barbecue have sprouted across the Bull City. For restaurateurs, it's a cheaper alternative to opening a traditional eatery.
Stenke, the Raleigh pizza truck owner, said he has to spend hundreds of dollars driving across the Triangle to find customers.
Because he can't park on Raleigh streets or rights-of-way, where there is heavy foot traffic, he said he must either rely on private catering gigs or haul his gas-guzzling 1977 step van to Durham several days a week.
Likewise, Amy Davis has to drive her "Slippin Sliders" food truck from Raleigh to Durham and Carrboro for lunch business. Carrboro, like Durham, allows the trucks on its streets.
Davis said she spends about $75 on gas every two days.
After several weeks of bouncing from one Raleigh department to another trying to learn the city's rules for food trucks, Stenke petitioned the City Council for changes in August. He said he doesn't expect the city to give him wide-open access to every corner of Raleigh, but he wants more guidelines and leniency.
Change in Raleigh?
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin, who heads the committee studying the issue, said a change is likely in the Capital City. But officials first have to hash out the details of how the trucks would affect existing restaurants and businesses.
Not surprisingly, many restaurant owners aren't enthusiastic about competing with mobile eateries, or having the trucks parked on streets in front of their establishments.
'It has to have its place'
"I think there's nothing wrong it, but it has to have its place," said Niall Hanley, who owns Solas, Hibernian and The Diner, all restaurants in Raleigh's Glenwood South district. "We're paying very heavy property taxes. The idea that somebody could take advantage of the location without the cost is a little unfair to the people in downtown."
The regulations are tough in Chapel Hill, too.
Lex Alexander petitioned the Town Council to change its rules in September. He wants to bring food trucks to vacant spots near his 3Cups cafe and retail shop on South Elliot Road to restore some vibrancy to the area.
"Chapel Hill is a difficult place to start a new business," Alexander said. "It's a disservice to the people in Chapel Hill not to give them access, or those who might want to test out an idea in a food truck."
Chapel Hill's staff won't make recommendations to the council until at least January, said town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko.
"It would have posed many more challenges," he said. "Allowing us to be able to park on city streets and find different venues was a really big deal for us."
Staff writer Katelyn Ferral contributed to this report.
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