Proposed Reno Restrictions on Food Trucks Meant to Level Playing Field Between Trucks & Restaurants

Reno proposed regulations this week that are meant to level the playing field between the area’s food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. / AP

By Yun Long |

Reno proposed regulations this week that are meant to level the playing field between the area’s food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. / AP

It’s a food fight — not in the school cafeteria, but on Reno streets and parking lots.

Reno proposed regulations this week that are meant to level the playing field between the area’s food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. Moving the food truck every two hours and operating only between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. are just two of the new regulations proposed.

“How are we going to conduct business?” said Nancy Horn, owner of Dish Cafe. Horn and her husband, Joe, signed a contract earlier this week to begin building their food truck.

“It doesn’t make any logical sense.”

Horn said her lunch crowd usually runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., which would make it impossible for a vendor to set up, serve and pack up in an 2-hour span and still make a profit.

The city has no ordinances governing food trucks and other mobile food vendors.

Concerns from Wells Avenue merchants prompted the city to look into developing regulations. The merchants were concerned about taco trucks setting up shop in a private parking lot and never moving despite being licensed as a mobile vendor.

The trucks are taking away customers from permanent businesses that have a higher overhead, said Alex Woodley, city code enforcement manager.

“We are just making sure that if you are a mobile-type business, you conduct your business as such,” he said.

Food trucks are licensed and insured to do business in Reno, but they aren’t regulated by the city. All mobile and brick-and-mortar eateries are inspected by the Washoe County Health Department.

Reno has more than 50 vendors who hold a mobile food vendor business license, but that includes ice cream trucks and catering vans.

The ordinance also clarifies that food trucks cannot park on any highway, street, alley, sidewalk or city-owned or city-operated public parking lot to do business. It is prohibited by state law. Food trucks only can do business on private commercial property with written permission from the owner.

It also imposes a 300-feet restriction around a permanent business selling a similar product. Vendors also can’t park within 300 feet of the property line of a school, church, playground and park without the owner’s permission. The same is true of special events, unless they are part of the event.

School officials were complaining that students weren’t returning to class after lunch because of the trucks, Woodley said.

One of the rules proposed in the new ordinance that prompted the strongest reaction would limit food trucks to operating from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Late nights are prime time for trucks such as Calvin’s Sausages and GourMelt Grilled Cheese Truck, who cater to the bar and nightlife crowds. Most food establishment are closed after 10 p.m., so the only places left to grab food downtown would be the casinos, fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.

“The restriction of 10 p.m. is not supporting the establishments that are asking us to come down and serve their customers,” Horn said.

Businesses that operate after 11 p.m. are required to have a special-use permit, which costs $3,000, Woodley said.

City officials are looking to work with food truck vendors and restaurant owners to craft an ordinance that is fair for both parties, he said.

The drafting process began about two years ago, when a former staffer wrote the original ordinance, Woodley said. But they are just starting the dialog with food truck owners about the regulations with the release of the draft.

State law requires that any businesses affected by a proposed ordinance be given a right to respond if it imposes an economic burden or restricts the operation and expansion of the business, Chaump said.

The public has until Dec. 30 to contact Reno’s business license department.

“We want to have an open meeting with the (mobile food vendors),” Chaump said. “We need their opinion on what would work and what wouldn’t. That is the purpose of the draft. We don’t want to put anyone out of business.”

Chaump will compile an Business Impact Statement that will be presented with the ordinance before the Reno City Council at its Jan. 18 meeting.