Columbus, OH: Justin Pearson Commentary – City Ordinances Should Help Foster Food Trucks

By Justin Pearson |


Daniel McCarthy is a spud stud. His food truck, Tatoheads, which serves up various tasty treats that pay homage to the potato, has quickly accumulated fantastic reviews and a devoted following. Now he would like the Columbus City Council to update the vending laws, so he and other food truckers can create more jobs and make the Arch City a tastier place for everyone.

But for that to happen, city leaders must first make some changes to laws that are standing in the way.

The food-truck craze has expanded nationwide, resulting in countless new jobs and innovative culinary delights. It is no surprise that Columbus residents have enthusiastically welcomed food trucks.

Unfortunately, the recent influx of food trucks has caught some Columbus officials off-guard, leading to inconsistent and arbitrary results. For example, Daniel’s employee was ticketed for not having his own commercial sales license, even though the employee was not actually required to have one. Although the city eventually dropped the bogus charge, it took four trips to court by Daniel and thousands of dollars in lost business to do so.

To their credit, the mayor and city council members have acknowledged that there are enforcement problems and that the current laws, which require food trucks to obtain a peddler’s license, are outdated. Better still, they have expressed a desire to work with food-truck owners to come up with laws that will allow this budding culinary movement to flourish.


Brian Reed, owner of the Mojo TaGo food truck and president of the Central Ohio Food Truck Association, is cautiously optimistic that local officials want to do the right thing. However, he also knows that a vocal minority of politically connected restaurant owners will attempt to protect themselves from competition by pushing for restrictions on food trucks.

The council should reject such calls for anti-competitive regulations and let consumers decide where they want to buy their lunch. As a recent report by the Institute for Justice demonstrates, food trucks bolster, not harm, surrounding restaurants and other businesses, particularly in cities such as Los Angeles and Austin that have embraced food trucks. Food trucks increase foot traffic and draw new customers to neighborhoods where restaurants are located. Food trucks can also lead to the creation of new brick-and-mortar restaurants and provide an innovative way for existing businesses to reach different consumer markets.

No reasonable person would argue that the government should forbid two competing brick-and-mortar businesses from opening near each other. The fact that one business happens to have wheels on it does not justify discrimination.

Some have argued that cities should discriminate against food trucks because they have an unfair advantage over restaurants, but there is no evidence that such an advantage exists. To the contrary, food trucks cannot carry as much inventory as restaurants, cannot serve as many people as restaurants and are completely at the mercy of the weather.

Laws that make it difficult for food trucks to operate do no favors for established restaurants, nor do they help other types of local businesses that would like to sell their products to the food trucks’ customers. And these restrictions certainly do not help consumers, who want the diversity of reasonably priced, quality food options that food trucks provide.

Moreover, as several federal courts have recognized, laws designed solely to protect some businesses at the expense of others are unconstitutional.

As council members proceed to change the city’s regulations, they should follow the examples of cities such as Los Angeles and Austin, whose laws generally abstain from protectionism and focus instead on providing reasonable solutions to public health and safety issues, such as trash disposal and traffic safety.

Brian, Daniel and other food-truck owners are making Columbus a better place to live for everyone, but this will continue only if the city council embraces the rights of customers and entrepreneurs.