Good news for Raleigh: One of our local food trucks, Pho Nomenal Dumpling, was recently named best food truck in America. As the winner of Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race,” this mobile kitchen brings much-deserved attention to Raleigh’s growing food truck community.
With that success in mind, local officials were wisely considering freeing up this growing economy and making room for the innovation that comes naturally for food truckers. It would’ve been the right thing to do for both hardworking entrepreneurs and hungry people alike. The City Council had been planning on enacting a pilot program that would give food trucks more chances to shine. Unfortunately, the council just delayed this decision until next year.
But there’s no reason to delay. A wide body of evidence shows that food trucks enrich both the culinary and economic prospects of the cities where they drop their parking brakes.
The proposed pilot program shows how far Raleigh has come. In August the city council was considering regulating food trucks from operating in heavily trafficked areas like Five Points. After a public backlash scuttled those plans, the Law and Public Safety Committee decided to go in the opposite direction. They considered permitting curbside vending allowing food trucks to operate on some public streets, rather than being confined to private property as under current law.
This is absolutely the right thing to do. In addition to bringing everyone more good eats, food trucks provide opportunities for hardworking entrepreneurs.
Food truck owners are people like Stephanie Ruggiro, a young millennial entrepreneur and the owner of Stuft, a gourmet potato food truck. Stephanie found the low food truck startup costs – which average between $30,000 and $80,000 – an affordable way to start a business. That’s compared with the hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which simply isn’t an option for many young people and would-be entrepreneurs.
Now’s a good time for Raleigh to tap into the growing food truck movement. Industry reports show food truck revenues have grown to nearly $1 billion over the last several years and support almost 15,000 jobs. Growing at 10 percent annually over the last five years, food trucks are expected to be a $2.7 billion industry by 2017, according to Emergent Research.
Other cities have used similar reforms to unleash thriving food truck communities and the jobs that come with them. Major cities including Atlanta and Washington already permit curbside food truck vending. And then there’s Portland, Oregon, known as the nation’s “food truck capital” for its food-truck friendly regulation and curbside vending. These cities should be a major inspiration for our own upcoming pilot program.
The parking brake
About the only ones opposing more food trucks are some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners. Where we see tasty delicacies, they see competition. And rather than innovate their own services and menus to fit their customers’ evolving palates, many would prefer using heavy-handed government regulations to pass exclusionary zoning laws and pull the parking brake on economic opportunities and jobs. Among their demands are prohibiting food trucks within 100 feet from the nearest restaurant and only serving in specified zones. It’s almost like a quarantine.
That’s not right. If restaurants are worried about competing against food trucks, there’s nothing keeping them from starting food truck versions of their own stores – after all, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s how markets are supposed to work. These concerns are overblown, anyway. Even with food trucks, local restaurants continue to draw customers. As one Raleigh food truck owner suggests, restaurants and food trucks can happily coexist: they should think food courts – not food fights.
Lawmakers can’t ignore our appetite for delicious food. We proved that this summer, when the future of food trucks in Raleigh looked bleak. Actions like forming a food truck business league and getting 1,600 signatures put further regulations on ice.
We applaud the city council for hearing all of our concerns. Now that they’ve done that, they should see there’s no good reason to delay in clearing the road for food trucks.
Anna Beavon Gravely of Raleigh is the North Carolina state director of Generation Opportunity.