Where Are The Food Trucks?
Food Truck People courtesy of Rambling Dream
People love food trucks and not just for the mouth-watering food or easy access. By all means, the smell of peppers and onions sizzling away with strips of sirloin is pretty enticing. It’s kind of like being at the fair with familiar food scents except you can easily have all of this in the middle of the week, perhaps located in the middle of a parking lot. But, no, the love and appreciation for food trucks is deeper than what your olfactory senses can provide. Food trucks have a certain nostalgia factor, maybe taking you back to a time when street vendors kept hungry workers satisfied and for a quick buck you could dine on a dime. And even if you’re too young to appreciate that, then food trucks are just cool. There’s something right about supporting a local vender, pouring their heart and money into fresh, locally-produced foods, preparing special dishes right out of an RV or bus that has been upcycled. It’s not a wonder people are loving the food truck craze. Now, if only Sarasota would get on board.
Since restrictions on food truck operations tightened in 2011, many food truck operators have had to become creative to stay in business. Strict Sarasota ordinances required food trucks “shall not be operated within 800 feet of any established restaurant unless written, notarized consent is provided from the restaurant operator.” The ordinance also states that the operators “shall not be located within a 750-foot radius of another temporary vendor location.” This has forced many food truck vendors out of business and has made the road very tough for resilient operators still in the game.
According to Sarasota resident Alison Free, owner of PiledHi, LLC, a shift in attitude among brick and mortar restaurant owners could help the current situation. She thinks that food truck rallies and downtown festivals serves all businesses well by introducing first-timers to Sarasota’s downtown area, encouraging them to return and check out live music venues, stores and restaurants. She feels residual spending will happen and all area businesses will benefit. PiledHi’s food truck has recently been operating in Lee County, which has been more accommodating and less expensive to do business with than Sarasota County. Wanting to retain her hometown roots, Ms. Free has been in a two-year application process to get into the Sarasota Farmer’s Market. This long and arduous process is also another consequence of the tightening niche food truck vendors are vying for.
Many vendors are opting for weekend farmer’s markets or occasional festivals to keep their operations running. Nearby Bradenton, who has embraced the food truck movement, successfully holds food truck rallies, street fairs, art festivals and more, with food trucks usually being the main attraction. Places in Sarasota like JDubs Brewing Company offer special nights where they have food trucks and offer games and activities for families. But what the food truck vendors want is less restrictive oversight so they can be the norm rather than the exception when it comes to Sarasota eatery options.
The SRQ Food Truck Alliance has taken up the plight of local food truckers. They partnered with the Institute for Justice, an Arlington-based nonprofit group, to work with Sarasota County officials on possible changes. According to Phil Applebaum at the Institute for Justice, he’s been pleased with the progress they’ve made with the local zoning department. A hefty fee that accompanies a Zoning Text Amendment, which they need to put forth the changes they are requesting, put a temporary snag in the process. Mr. Applebaum says the group now has a meeting scheduled with a Sarasota County Commissioner to discuss a possible sponsorship of the amendments. He is hopeful they are on the right track but indicated the process with amending Sarasota’s current ordinances would be one of give and take. For now it appears they are making headway
and have the ear of county commissioners who seem eager to help. Weary food truck operators are hoping restrictions ease up so they can become a permanent part of Sarasota’s food culture. And hungry residents are ready too.
All photos from Flickr “Commercial Free”….Food Truck People courtesy of Rambling Dream, Food Truck Rally-Ted Eytan, Food Truck- Rambling Dream.