By Becca Habegger | WBIR.com
Almost one year after the launch of a downtown food truck pilot program, many people are saying the future is bright for Knoxville’s mobile restaurants.
The program kicked off last year amid controversy. Twenty-one downtown restaurants actively opposed it, saying food trucks would cut into profits.
Patricia Robledo is Knoxville’s business liaison. She’s been working with owners of food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants to craft and administer the pilot program.
Since the launch of the mobile food vendor pilot program, she said, 12 trucks have received permits and three more are currently in the permitting process. Mobile restaurants must pass the same inspections and meet the same health codes as brick-and-mortar restaurants.
The year-long pilot program is in its 11th month, and Robledo said she has not heard complaints from any of the restaurant owners originally opposed to food trucks in the downtown area.
“Quite frankly, I have not received one phone call, one email from a brick-and-mortar restaurant claiming that their business is down because of food trucks. That has just not happened,” Robledo said. “I think it’s very much safe to say it’s been a successful pilot program. I think it’s been a successful process.”
Byron Sambat agrees. He owns Savory & Sweet food truck, one of the 12 now permitted through the pilot program.
“It’s been really good for us, you know. Being able to vend downtown on the public right-of-way has been a really nice change for us,” Sambat said. “We’ve got a lot of good exposure, you know, for people to know that food trucks are here.”
On Tuesday evening, Sambat’s Savory & Sweet truck was parked at Bearden Beer Market in West Knoxville.
Carrie and Rob Cox stopped for dinner.
“I think there are some really creative and affordable options on a food truck that you can’t necessarily get at a brick-and-mortar place,” Rob Cox said. “It’s also quick, you know, if you ever just want to get something on the go.”
A number of restaurant owners originally opposed to food trucks in the downtown area weren’t immediately available for comment Tuesday, but Bistro at the Bijou owner Martha Boggs said the pilot program hasn’t really been a factor in her business.
Helping strike the balance between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants, Sambat said, is the location of the pilot program’s zones.
“For example,” Sambat said, “Zone 1 over on Main Street, there’s nothing really to eat over there, and most of those people only get, like, 30 minutes for lunch, so, you know, it really helps them out as well as us, so it works pretty well that way.”
Robledo said the city met recently with food truck owners, “where we wanted to hear back from them about what was working, what wasn’t working, which zones they liked, which ones they didn’t,” she said.
The city may use information gleaned in that meeting to tweak the existing program.
Edwin Wong, president of the Knoxville Mobile Restaurants Association, said he sees good things for the city’s food trucks this year.
“I think this year is the year you’ll see the biggest growth,” he said.
Part of that growth includes the launch of a brand-new online tool for food truck fans.
By visiting http://knoxvillefoodtrucks.com, people can learn where and when they can find their favorite mobile restaurants.
For more on the city’s mobile food vendor pilot program, click HERE.