Food truck policy on Raleigh's menu

City Council takes up issue Tuesday

Staff writerJuly 18, 2011 

  • The proposal will go before the City Council at 1 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers, 222 W. Hargett St.

— The city could open a new era on the food scene this week if officials pass a long-awaited policy allowing food trucks to do business around town.

A set of rules that emerged from several rounds of talks between food truck operators and restaurant owners would let food trucks set up on private property - as long as they meet certain requirements.

In Raleigh, food trucks have been able to seek permits to do business only for special events. But the policy under consideration Tuesday would allow them to set up on a daily basis.

Lucas Kinnin is eager for a resolution in Raleigh. He hopes to open Local Motive, a food truck that will serve brunch items made with local ingredients, including biscuits, breakfast wraps, burgers and salads.

Kinnin, 26, partnered with chef Ian Altschul, a graduate of the New England Culinary Institute. The pair hopes to find success in Raleigh, noting that Durham - which already has such a policy in place - boasts a thriving food truck scene.

"We really wanted to be a Raleigh truck," Kinnin said. "We didn't want to just start it and go off to Durham. I've lived here my whole life and wanted to start something here."

Food truck advocates faced resistance from restaurant owners who point out that they pay high-dollar rent and property taxes, and said they shouldn't have to compete with low-overhead operations parked outside.

In April, Mayor Charles Meeker asked the two sides to get together and work things out.

"There should be some middle ground," Meeker said last week. "The food trucks shouldn't be right across the street from restaurants. But there are places where they do have a role."

Among the key parts of a policy that will go before the City Council on Tuesday:

Food trucks must be at least 100 feet from the main entrance or outdoor dining area of any restaurant, and 50 feet from any food cart, such as a hot dog stand.

No more than one truck is allowed per half-acre, preventing "food courts" that feature rows of food trucks.

No free-standing signage or loudspeakers. Outdoor seating areas are allowed only on lots two acres or larger.

The restrictions could prove onerous for food truck operators accustomed to friendlier rules in Durham and Carrboro, said Brian Bottger, owner of Durham-based Only Burger.

"If we wanted to gather a bunch of trucks in somebody's parking lot, well, you can't do that in Raleigh now," Bottger said. "That sort of eliminates things that have proven to be fun."

For Mike Stenke, owner of Klausie's Pizza, Tuesday's vote culminates a lengthy campaign to help food trucks gain access to the Capital City.

"You're never going to get exactly what you want," Stenke said. "I have to give them some credit - they were operating with a lot of pressure against them. I'm glad they took a common-sense approach."

'It's a start'

Ed Wills, owner of two local McDonald's stores, was a regular speaker at City Hall meetings where the policy was debated. He reminded listeners about the challenges facing restaurants.

"It's not to where I'm satisfied with it, but they have to do what they think is fair for everybody," Wills said. "I still think it's an unfair advantage. If they want to cut my taxes to make it equal, I'm all for it."

Approval from Raleigh isn't the last hurdle for new food trucks. Kinnin and Altschul must show Wake County health inspectors they have proper equipment in their commissary, the kitchen where they'll prepare food.

The duo hopes to open by August or September, once they see how Raleigh's policy takes shape.

"It's a start and at least gives us something," Kinnin said.

As Raleigh moves toward a decision, Stenke said he's already getting calls from Durham customers begging him not to leave.

The pizza man vows to maintain a regular presence in the Bull City.

"That doesn't mean I can't have a little tryst with Raleigh every now and then," he said.

matt.garfield@newsobserver.com or 919-836-4952

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