By STAFF | The Commercial Appeal
The Memphis City Council voted this spring to allow businesses to use trucks to sell tacos and other food within the city limits, and soon the Shelby County Commission will debate whether to expand the restaurant-on-wheels concept to unincorporated areas of the county.
County commissioner Chris Thomas said a man asked him earlier this year to support an ordinance permitting food trucks but that he decided to wait until the city acted before introducing the county version, set for an initial discussion Wednesday.
“Basically, I think it’s a good idea,” Thomas said. “I think it’s a great way for people to have their own little business.”
Before the City Council passed its ordinance in April, food-truck operators could operate in Memphis only with a short-term, special-use permit, Asst. County Atty. Janet Shipman said.
The proposed county ordinance would allow the truck operators to obtain licenses to park routinely on streets in unincorporated Shelby County.
The food trucks couldn’t operate in suburban cities such as Germantown unless those cities pass their own ordinances, Shipman said.
There are 27 licensed food trucks operating in Memphis, said Otho Sawyer, the Health Department’s assistant manager of environmental sanitation.
The draft version of the county ordinance says owners of mobile-food vehicles would have to ask the Health Department for a permit for each vehicle and pay a $150 application fee.
If operators parked a truck on a public roadway, it would have to stay for at least 30 minutes but it could stay no more than six hours on any one block in a 24-hour period.
The trucks couldn’t operate within 300 feet of a school in a residential district without written permission from the school. Operators of food vehicles couldn’t park within 300 feet of an open restaurant unless all restaurants in the area had given permission.
The proposed county rules are similar to requirements in the existing city ordinance.
Taylor Berger operates a mobile frozen dessert truck through his business, called YoLo, and says it’s not easy to find a place that’s 300 feet from a restaurant.
He also said it’s hard to meet requirements to move the trailer — his is a remodeled Airstream that requires a truck to tow it and a generator for power.
Because of the difficulties, the company has primarily used the trailer at festivals such as Bonnaroo, a big music and arts gathering in Manchester, Tenn., as well as private events such as weddings.
“It was a ton of fun and honestly, we didn’t make a ton of money doing it, but I was happy with it overall because we were able to get our name out there,” Berger said. “We were able to use the trailer to promote our stores.”
Another food truck operator is Erik Proveaux, co-owner of Fuel Cafe in Midtown. He said he uses Twitter to advertise the truck’s location and said he’s selling tacos, french fries and other food from Downtown near Jefferson Avenue and Main Street by the new dog park called The Barking Lot.
He said he’d like to see more people enter the food-truck business. “I’m not scared of the competition,” he said. “I think it will be better for everybody, actually.”