Chapel Hill's new food truck rules attract no takers

Chapel Hill too expensive to set up shop, they say

kferral@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2012 

— Six months after Chapel Hill let food trucks in, they still haven’t come.

The town has received zero permit applications from food truck owners since the Town Council created a new set of rules for them in late January.

Food truck vendors say the high fees and permitting costs are the main reason they’ve stayed away, but the town also has tight restrictions on where trucks can park, making it even harder to do business.

Now some town council members want to make the ordinance more food truck friendly.

Council member Lee Storrow plans to petition the council this month to lower the fees and ease other restrictions to encourage the trucks to come to town.

Storrow proposes making Chapel Hill’s fees comparable to Raleigh’s and using police officers to monitor them at night rather than a designated inspection agent, he said.

The town needs to understand better food trucks’ regional business model, which is based on an energetic, loyal customer base willing to cross city lines to follow the truck, he said.

“The biggest challenge we have faced is really not understanding the economic business model of food trucks,” he said. “It’s really based on operating in this entire region and not just one municipality.”

Chapel Hill’s food truck fees are the most expensive in the Triangle, totaling $886 in permits and license fees for the vendor and the property owner who hosts the truck.

The town’s current rules came in the midst of an ongoing campaign to make over the town’s business image, from a place of over-regulation to one of innovation and inclusiveness.

The food truck ordinance does little to enforce the new image, food truck supporters say.

Food truck businesses may be allowed in Chapel Hill, but they certainly don’t feel invited, said Jody Argote, owner of the Parlez Vous Crepes truck.

“The message that the food truck operators got from the Town of Chapel Hill was that food trucks weren’t really welcome there,” she said.

On top of the high fees, the other rules make it hard to find a spot to park, said Argote. Instead, she gets plenty of business from serving her crepes in Carrboro, Hillsborough and Durham.

“Even once you decide to pay the fees, there’s very few places where you can go (in Chapel Hill),” she said. “I would love to be there, but it doesn’t make economic sense.”

Running a food truck in other Triangle cities is significantly cheaper than Chapel Hill. Total permit and license costs for food truck in Raleigh are $226, in Durham they are $75 and in Carrboro they are $85.

According to Chapel Hill’s current ordinance, food trucks are limited to private, non-residential property in Chapel Hill. They must be parked at least 100 feet from an existing restaurant and cannot interfere with the restaurant’s business.

A new ordinance should find a way to bring food trucks to town and “fill in the gaps” of what food is offered downtown, Storrow said.

“I think that helps create a sense of community culture and brings people into downtown (and) provide more opportunities to interact in our downtown,” he said.

Ferral: 919-932-8746

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