It’s an especially good time to have an appetite here in the Triangle. This Sunday, Raleigh will host its third Food Truck Rodeo of the summer. Sizzling pulled pork, kale salad, gourmet stuffed baked potatoes, bacon-wrapped fried cheesecake and sweet and savory Belgian waffles are just a small sampling of what awaits local eaters.
But while these trucks will make Raleigh a foodie paradise for the weekend, their deliciousness may be short-lived. The City Council is considering several new zoning restrictions on where the trucks can operate. Combined with the city’s current food truck regulations, this could lead to Raleigh’s food truck revolution going stale.
To get a grasp of what’s at steak – get it? – consider the entrepreneurial success that is the food truck industry. According to IBISWorld industry research, food trucks generate $857 million in annual revenue and employ nearly 15,000 people. The industry has grown by around 10 percent annually over the last five years and is expected to generate $2.7 billion by 2017.
They’ve also established a real sense of legitimacy in the culinary world, appearing in dining magazines, restaurant associations and especially in cooking entertainment. This month alone, local participants in the Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo will show up on national Food Network shows like “The Great Food Truck Race,” “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “A Few Great Bakeries.”
With this cultural and financial success, you’d think Raleigh would welcome food trucks to the table. Instead, it puts them on a waiting list.
For example, current law prohibits food trucks from parking in public spots during most of the day and requires they remain over 100 feet from the front door of a restaurant. And if you’re a private property owner who wants to welcome a mobile kitchen on your land, it will cost you a $78 permit.
The City Council now wants to go a step further. Recent proposals would create new zones that would allow restaurants and bars to operate but would prohibit food trucks entirely. This would apply in such popular destinations as Five Points, which is known for its good eateries.
This exposes the real intent behind many of these unnecessary policies: They protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from the challenge of competition, placing the entrepreneurial dream out of reach for many would-be restaurateurs. Many people cannot afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars it takes to start a new restaurant, but they can manage the $40,000 that a food truck startup costs. By restricting food trucks through unfair regulations, city councilors are also restricting the ability of people to earn a better life.
This food fight is simply unnecessary. In fact, some restaurants have even found it beneficial to work with food trucks. The Berkeley Café, for example, now invites food truck owners to take over its kitchen once a week and serve up customized fares in-store. Such partnerships show that when done right, what’s good for one can be good for all.
Durham also shows the benefits of allowing food trucks to compete on a level playing field. Sensible, streamlined regulations have allowed them to thrive, giving Durham a reputation as one of the best cities for foodies. Several food trucks have proven so successful that they’ve opened brick-and-mortar locations. This is exactly the type of entrepreneurial success story the Raleigh City Council should be trying to emulate, not shut down.
City Council members should sample for themselves the food trucks at Sunday’s rodeo and realize the value they bring to Raleigh. Food trucks are one of the best ways to spice up our palate and economy. Rather than try and restrict continued growth, the City Council should clear the regulatory table to make room for more.
Alex Johnson is the North Carolina director of Generation Opportunity.
If you go
What: Evening Rodeo
When: Sunday, 4-9 p.m.
Where: Fayetteville Street, Raleigh
More information: downtownraleighfoodtruckrodeo.com/