By Ryan Hunter | Capital Gazette
John Talman always wanted his own restaurant but he never had the money to buy his own place.
So after 27 years in the industry, he bought a second-hand truck, turned it into a restaurant and hit the road.
“Food trucks are the future,” said the 48-year-old Annapolis resident.
He opened CrabTown Curbs in May. A food truck allows him to practice and perfect recipes on the fly — crab cake sliders, blackened Caesar shrimp salads, spicy seafood chicken wings. His 144-square-foot kitchen is nearly identical to those found in brick and mortar restaurants.
But customers trying to find Talman’s blue and white truck near their office park may be disappointed. Annapolis codes limit where food peddlers can go and how long they can stay. They are banned in the Historic District.
“Food trucks can only be in residential and industrial zones,” said Annapolis Alderman Joe Budge, D-Ward 1. “This excludes them from areas where there would otherwise could be restaurants.”
To be successful, Talman must put his food in front of potential customers. That can be difficult when he can’t set a regular schedule or hit the city’s most populated areas.
“You have to figure out what people want to eat and where they’re are going to be,” he said.
Vendors can be only in a residential area for 30 minutes unless they are within the bounds of Ward Eight or have the city’s approval during special events.
Talman believes the 2009 code doesn’t take into account his business and forces him to operate like an ice cream truck. “They didn’t think about this when the peddler’s license was invoked. I don’t know if they had food trucks back then.”
Sean M. O’Neill, President of the Annapolis Business Association, said the restrictions protect brick and mortar businesses subject to fees and taxes from which food trucks are exempt.
“There should be some sort of permit they have to purchase that helps offset the costs to long term legacy businesses,” he said.
The only way the code could be altered is by the City Council. Talman hopes the rules and regulations in Annapolis will change as demand for food trucks increase.
Regardless of the restrictions, Annapolis residents seem eager to frequent Talman’s restaurant on wheels.
Alice Estrada, executive director of the Annapolis Maritime Museum, tried to find someone to cater her events. But the group’s lack of kitchen facilities made a food truck their best and only option.
Paula Bartlette, 57, recently visited the museum for a outdoor summer concert and was enticed by the smell of freshly fried potato chips wafting from the truck parked next door.
“The menu is incredible,” she said. “I think Annapolis needs something like this.”
City resident Madeleine Monson-Rosen, 38, agreed.
“Food trucks make a city hip, and Annapolis could surely use more hipness.”