New Regulations Governing Columbus Food Trucks In The Works

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Food trucks are governed now by what most insiders agree are a hodgepodge of outdated regulations.(Photo: WOSU file photo)
Food trucks are governed now by what most insiders agree are a hodgepodge of outdated regulations.(Photo: WOSU file photo)

The food truck industry is booming in Columbus. The popularity of these new mobile mini-restaurants has grown so fast they’ve outpaced city regulations. Now a member of city council wants to establish regulations that would serve as a model for the nation.

In an East Franklinton parking lot, a food truck called Swoop is serving up sliders and potato tots for a lunch-time crowd.

“I love the concept of the food trucks. I want to support small local businesses and I’m a foodie,” said diner Jessica Shimberg. “ I’m very concerned about where food comes from. The food trucks really try to use fresh ingredients and are really trying to bring different ethnic choices to people.”

Swoop is owned by chef Matthew Heaggans who says his truck serves a wide variety of food.

“We don’t stick to a region so sometimes we’ll have food with an Asian theme, you know, we do a lot of French style cuisine because that’s my background, so today we have a pork shoulder over dinner grits. It’s kind of like a mashing of the French and the Southern American,” Heaggans says.

Food Trucks Restricted To Private Property

Swoop is one of more than a hundred food trucks in Columbus. But as it is now, they can only operate on private property. Heaggans would like to see that changed.

“Columbus has been very friendly to us so far. There are some things that I would like to see changed a little bit. Being able to park on the street at any available meter it would improve traffic for us. It would really open up our bottom line.” Heaggans says.

Hodgepodge Of Regulations

Food trucks are governed now by what most insiders agree are a hodgepodge of outdated regulations. The health department inspects food trucks to ensure that food is handled properly. But other aspects of the food truck business have not been addressed in city regulations. Brian Reed, President of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association, says there needs to be a comprehensive set of rules.

“The laws that are on the books really aren’t written for food trucks as we know them today. They’re not up to date and we feel like there needs to be some changes made to incorporate the way we operate today,” Reed says.

It may not seem likely now, but food truck owner Daniel McCarthy sees potential friction between mobile dining and stand-alone restaurants.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around being a restaurant investing $300,000, $400,000 into your establishment and then someone comes along with a model that gets the job done for a lot less money and possibly some people would get jealous but overall I don’t see much pushback,” McCarthy says.

“Brick And Mortar” Restaurants Want Fair Competition

City council member Michelle Mills has put together a task force aimed at refurbishing city food truck regulations. But there’s an undercurrent of tensions between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. Randy Sokol represents the Central Ohio Restaurant Association.

“It’s a touchy situation for a lot of restaurants,” Sokol says.

It’s touchy because some restaurant owners don’t want food trucks parking near their establishments, siphoning away their customers.

“Is it really fair to have a truck pull up in front of a brick-and-mortar restaurant and create that kind of competition? And part of the questions that we’re having is that restaurants spend anywhere from a half-million dollars or so to build their brick and mortar. And they have higher expenses than a food truck does. So it’s kind of not a level playing field. What we’re really trying to do is make this a level playing field so everybody can do business,” Sokol says.

That, says council member Michelle Mills, is her goal. She says she’s wants to craft legislation that ensures that everyone prospers: food trucks and restaurants.

“We want to make sure that both are supported; that we don’t, for the sake of one, interrupt the success of the other,” Mills says.

Another stakeholders meeting will be held in the coming weeks to hammer out some sort of regulatory package. Council member Mills says she believes those new regulations could go before city council for consideration sometime this spring.

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