Editorial: Where's our appetite for food trucks?

Apr. 11, 2013 @ 01:13 PM

Chapel Hill just doesn’t seem hungry for food trucks.

If you’ve ever tried parking downtown, it also seems like the town's not necessarily keen on drawing people to the brick-and-mortar shops on Franklin Street unless you’re on foot, arriving by bus or riding a bicycle.

But the topic of conversation at Wednesday night’s Town Council meeting was the outrageous $600 permit fee that Chapel Hill wants food truck operators to pay to sell burgers, dumplings, pizza-by-the-slice and pie – among so many other things – inside the town limits.

The good news reported by The Chapel Hill Herald’s Gregory Childress is that it sounds like the Town Council might be willing to reduce the fee.

The bad news? There’s no telling how significant the reduction might be or when it would take effect.

The council wants to look at options in a month, compare how other towns manage food trucks and, Councilman Jim Ward suggested, “revisit it in a year.”

A year? Really? Obviously not in a hurry to jump on the food truck bandwagon.

How popular has the exorbitantly priced food truck permit been in Chapel Hill?

The town has sold exactly two of them since updating its Food Truck Ordinance in January 2012.

Two.

Not twenty. Not two hundred. Two.

And those two were sold to the same vendor: Bageuttaboutit.

Maybe that’s the message we’re meant to get from all this?

“The overall perception is that Chapel Hill is just not food truck friendly,” said Tracy Livers, operator of Olde North State BBQ’s food trailer.

Some storefront shop owners argue that it’s unfair to cut food truck operators too much slack because brick-and-mortar merchants pay thousands of dollars in rent each month to do business in town.

That’s a fair point, as far as it goes. However, that rent includes a fixed advertising space where people can always find you and it provides a reliable location to transact commerce.

Food trucks, on the other hand, are - by their very nature – sometimes amusingly elusive. And although their owners may not pay rent in the traditional sense, they are purchasing vehicles, fueling them with gasoline from local station pumps (not a small overhead expense these days), repairing them at local garages and selling food that’s probably made with ingredients bought in area stores and farmers’ markets.

Also, some food trucks – such as Durham’s Only Burger – end up adding even more to the economic base when their owners establish storefront operations to pair with trucks after business really takes off.

Those entrepreneurs starting out for the first time simply may not be able to afford what Chapel Hill charges.

Maybe the council should consider adapting the town’s park-n-ride lots to include park-n-vend spaces?