Food Truck Rules Readied

Listen to the Story

This sticker appears on food trucks that are eligible to park at designated public meters in Columbus.(Photo: Marilyn Smith, WOSU Radio)
This sticker appears on food trucks that are eligible to park at designated public meters in Columbus.(Photo: Marilyn Smith, WOSU Radio)

Food Trucks, once quaint lunch alternatives, have become a thriving industry in Columbus. As many as 150 mobile food vendors operate in the city. That expansion has brought some tension between the mobile restaurants and their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. The city has launched a pilot program to keep the peace, but neither side is completely satisfied.

The controversy is over location like The short North. With all of its bars and galleries, young people with late -night munchies – it’s the perfect location for food trucks to operate. But they couldn’t – at least not on city streets. The city prohibited them from parking on the street. But now the new pilot program will allow food trucks to park at 16 meters in the downtown area. Two are near Warren and High .

Nathan Holmes runs the the food truck called My Place or Yours. He’s eying a couple public parking spots because until now he’s had to park on private property – like a convenience store parking lot.

“It will cut way down on costs as well as the majority of private property parking spots are going to be located behind a building, alongside of a building. With this I can be right out in front where everybody can see me,” he explains.

He gets better visibility and a lower rate. Under the city’s program, Holmes says he can pay a meter fee of roughly a dollar an hour – less than what he has to pay a private parking lot owner.

But while food some truck operators are happier, some restaurant owners worry. They don’t like the idea of a food truck, pulling up to the curb, feeding the meter and siphoning off customers.

Matt Litzinger owns L’Antibes- a high end French bistro just off High Street in the Short North. He’s generally a fan but a food truck parking spot is on the street right in front of his restaurant. While he doubts diners looking for tender escargots will choose the food truck over his menu, he says it could still hurt business.

“The food truck right beside my restaurant which would be directly next to a patio that I build with a beautiful view of downtown. I don’t think for aesthetic or ambiance purposes that that food truck would be beneficial to my business,” he explains.

And there are other kinks in the pilot program.

Laura Lee owns Ajumama a food truck specializing in Korean street food. She was excited about parking on city streets downtown. Then she found out her truck is too long. For safety, city rules say only trucks 25 feet or less can park at the meters.

“We’re personally a little disappointed because we’re at 27 feet. We’re two feet too long to participate in the pilot program,” she said.

She’s not alone -Lee estimates nearly half of the trucks that belong to the Central Ohio Food Truck Association are too long to qualify for the pilot program. Trying to find middle ground is Columbus City

“Oh, it’s not easy,” said Councilwoman Michelle Mills.

Mills sponsored the pilot program. She now will watch what happens before recommending permanent rules.

She says her priorities are public safety and balancing the needs of food truck owners and traditional restaurant owners.

“But at the end of the day there are going to be some pieces that probably won’t make the food truck industry happy and maybe some that inconvenience the bricks and mortar. But there is no set legislation that makes every single person in the city of Columbus happy,” Mills acknowledged.

Food truck operator Laura Lee hopes for a compromise. She says the blow back from bricks and mortar restaurants is overblown.

“To be honest a lot of this has been made up. CORA, the Central Ohio Restaurant Association, is very much on board with us. We have a lot of bars that want to work with us. That want to have us outside their establishments so they can give something different to their customers. Obviously, there’s going to be tensions, but the bulk of what’s been reported is not true,” she said.

City officials will spend the summer monitoring the tension, or the cooperation before assessing whether to expand the program to phase two.

As for Laura Lee, she’s just hoping not to get phased out.

“Plan B is the thing I don’t want to think about,” she laughed.

  • Nigel

    Maybe instead of being afraid of food trucks, Columbus restaurants should try making better food. Seriously, the quality of food in this medium-sized fly-over city is just…. just awful.