By Will Isern | Pensacola News Journal
Food trucks were welcomed to City Hall on Thursday with steady crowds, in what could be a premonition of the future throughout the city if City Council is able to pass yet another proposed food truck ordinance.
With several major buildings within a stone’s throw of City Hall and curious downtown professionals out for lunch, the food trucks Thursday were met with lines of eager customers shortly after they opened at 11 a.m., and they stayed busy through the afternoon.
The offerings were varied Thursday with ribs and burgers from The Busy Bee, gumbo and jambalaya from The Cajun Meat Train, and wood-fired pizzas from Rolling Embers.
Mayor Ashton Hayward tried food from all three and praised Busy Bee’s fried ribs. Hayward said he hopes to see City Council pass a food truck ordinance soon.
“I hope that we can get something passed,” Hayward said. “I think today’s a testament that people want food trucks. I think it gives people different options. We’ve got great restaurants in the city, this just offers people different variety.”
Lunch goers Carlos and Brooke Godinez said they looked forward to eating food from The Cajun Meat Train, pointing to the scarce availability of Cajun restaurants in the city.
“I love Cajun food,” Carlos Godinez said. “It’s hard to get it around here anymore so we figured let’s go check it out.”
Brooke Godinez moved back to Pensacola with her husband from Los Angeles where food trucks are the norm, and said she hopes to see them expand in Pensacola.
That could happen if City Council can pass a food truck ordinance that will come before them at their Jan. 14 council meeting. The ordinance is similar to one the council came within one vote of ratifying in November.
The new ordinance, drafted by council executive Donald Kraher, would implement a 200-foot buffer between food trucks and the main entrance to a brick and mortar restaurant, and would limit the amount of time a food truck could stay in one place to five hours. The City Council has been divided on the buffer zone issue.
The strongest proponent for food trucks on City Council has been councilman Larry B. Johnson. Johnson brought forward the first food truck ordinance the council considered and has been critical of the council’s failure to get some kind of an ordinance passed.
Johnson pre-empted the ordinance this week by announcing he will allow The Busy Bee Food Truck to operate in the parking lot of his bar, The Azalea Cocktail Lounge, on Friday nights starting at 9 p.m.
“It’s very frustrating as a small business owner to watch the process and hours of discussion with no resolution,” Johnson said.
“If it goes well, if everybody’s happy, and the neighbors are happy, we hope to continue to make it a Friday night event at The Azalea. Everyone’s welcome.”
Johnson said he checked with city administrator Eric Olson to ensure he was within the law in inviting the food truck to his business. Asked if Johnson’s move could be imitated by others, Hayward said private property owners were free to invite the trucks on their property, so long as it didn’t violate other rules such as zoning ordinances.