Greensboro, NC: Convenience, Commerce Fuel Debate on Downtown Food Trucks

Craig Deville and Micheline Chalhoub-Deville place their order at the Taqueria El Azteca food truck at Spring Garden and S. Chapman streets in Greensboro. Joseph Rodriguez (News & Record)

By Amanda Lehmert |

Craig Deville and Micheline Chalhoub-Deville place their order at the Taqueria El Azteca food truck at Spring Garden and S. Chapman streets in Greensboro. Joseph Rodriguez (News & Record)

GREENSBORO — Lunch may be rolling to you, if local foodies have anything to say about it.

Cities across the country have experienced a renaissance of hip, urban street food, with entrepreneurs selling everything from cupcakes to dumplings from mobile kitchens.

A group of local business owners and food lovers hope to encourage the trend in Greensboro — including making the city more food-truck friendly by amending a virtual ban on motorized mobile food sellers downtown.

“There’s something about food trucks. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia like with the ice cream truck of your childhood, but people love them, especially young people,” said Donovan McKnight,  a downtown resident.

Supporters say food trucks could expand the city’s culinary culture and create an opportunity for food entrepreneurs who want to feed the masses but don’t yet have a building.

 But others worry that traditional restaurants could suffer from the competition.

The Greensboro City Council banned most food trucks downtown last year, when it passed a series of new rules involving roadside food vendors.

Food pushcarts are still allowed downtown, but they can’t sell the same variety of hot foods as a motorized kitchen.

According to the health code, pushcarts are allowed only to sell drinks, ice cream, packaged food or hot dogs.

Foodies hope Greensboro leaders will ease the rules to allow a greater diversity of mobile food operations downtown, like they have seen on trips to such major cities as Seattle and Los Angeles, or locally in Durham.

The trucks offer food entrepreneurs a more affordable way to build a business than opening a full-scale restaurant, supporters wrote in a letter to council members. They could add new jobs to the area, while boosting the city’s food culture, they said.

“This could be an incubator for entrepreneurship,” said Cecelia Thompson,  a freelance food writer for the News & Record who has been leading the food-truck effort.

Food trucks also can be an extension of an existing restaurant business, like in the case of Taqueria El Azteca, which has a restaurant in Quaker Village and a new taco truck. It’s one of 12 permitted food trucks in Greensboro.

Owner Greg Munning  does a bustling business from the parking lot of Fordham’s Cleaners on Spring Garden Street, Tuesday through Saturday nights until 2 a.m.

The taco truck shares customers with the nearby bars, Munning said.

“I have gotten a lot of positive remarks, comments from people in the community, and their excitement and their energy keeps me coming back,” Munning said.

Downtown Greensboro Inc. plans to send out a survey, asking members what they think about bringing more food trucks to downtown.

DGI President Ed Wolverton said some restaurant owners are likely to be concerned about the impact on their businesses.

“Right now we have 35 restaurants downtown. Most of them are locally owned, locally managed, and they are struggling,” said Milton Kern,  who owns five downtown buildings with restaurants inside. “It is very, very hard for them to make any money, most of them.”

But there is hardly a consensus. The owners of the Green Bean and M’Coul’s Public House, for instance, signed onto the letter asking council to change the food-truck rules.

The conversation about the food trucks has picked up steam in the last few weeks. Supporters have met with council members and downtown business owners.

Supporters suggested the city should establish new regulations to make sure mobile food operations are beneficial to existing business and residents. For instance, the city might limit how close trucks can park to existing restaurants.

Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan  said there are still a lot of problems to sort out; food trucks can be hard to tax and regulate, given their mobile nature.

“Once you get into it, it’s not an easy topic. There are a lot of pros and cons on both sides of it,” she  said.

Greensboro city staff members planned a food-truck rally later this month to let locals learn about the mobile food businesses. But city spokesman Donnie Turlington  said the concept was abandoned, at least until the fall, while the city gauges the interest of people downtown.