Blurry and outdated regulations for gourmet food trucks in the Knoxville area may become slightly clearer in the near future after city officials, entrepreneurs and supporters participated in a public forum at the Knoxville Chamber on Wednesday.
“We’re aware of the growing popularity of food trucks as a nationwide phenomenon, and there’s a lot of interest locally about them,” said Bill Lyons, the city’s deputy mayor and its chief policy officer. “We’re trying to figure out how we can make this work in a fair and positive way for the city and each concerned party.”
Lyons, along with Rick Emmett, the city’s downtown coordinator, and Patricia Robledo, Knoxville’s business liaison, fielded questions regarding future zoning, hours of business, the pilot program and timetables for replacing the city’s ordinance, among other topics.
A trendy addition to economically progressive cities, gourmet food trucks work by preparing and selling dishes out of vehicles instead of being tethered to the ground as a brick-and-mortar business.
However, Knoxville’s city ordinance from 1960 only allows the food trucks to vend at special events, such as festivals, or on private property with the owner’s consent. Vendors say such an ordinance hampers their business.
An update on the ordinance is in the works, and city officials have been using Nashville as a possible model city.
“Nashville has been interesting to us,” Emmett said. “Food trucks on private property are a little more regulated there than it may be here, but we’re looking for something that will comply with everyone, restaurant owners included.”
Food trucks are required to have a Knoxville business license and a license from the health department, just as any other brick-and-mortar restaurant would.
“We’re lucky to have a good community where we live where there’s already a strong downtown presence,” said Dustin Busby, a co-owner at Hoof food truck, which purchases supplies completely through local farmers’ markets. “We’re very vital in how we want to spur on local agriculture and local community. Our goal is not to take away from brick-and-mortar restaurants, but instead to offer the public something that maybe a brick-and-mortar restaurant can’t right now.”
Hoof, Sweet and Savory, and Bull’s BBQ are only three examples of the estimated 30 food trucks that currently serve the Knoxville area, according to Robledo.
Officials believe that number could spike over the next year once clearly defined, updated and mutually beneficial rules are drawn out for the trucks.
Lyons said an update on the ordinance should come within “weeks” and also hinted at the possible addition of a blog and area food truck association, both of which were widely successful in the Nashville area.