Raleigh, NC: Food Truck Backers Get a Say; So Do Restaurants

Mike Stenke opened his own pizza place on wheels. Now, he is among a group of food truck operators who are lobbying to operate in downtown Raleigh.

BY MATT GARFIELD | NewObserver.com

Mike Stenke opened his own pizza place on wheels . Now, he is among a group of food truck operators who are lobbying to operate in downtown Raleigh.

RALEIGH — With a little help from the city, Mike Stenke told Raleigh City Council members, food trucks can bring a new element to the Raleigh food scene.

But friendlier policies for food trucks won’t help restaurants already facing challenges from the recession, restaurant owners shot back during a public hearing Tuesday.

A proposal would allow food trucks to operate on private property, but not within 50 feet of a restaurant unless they get permission from the restaurant owner. The idea grew out of discussions that started last fall when Stenke, owner of the Klausie’s Pizza food truck, persuaded the city to review its policies.

Stenke was joined Tuesday by about 20 food truck operators and advocates as well as a dozen restaurant owners concerned about what the new policy would mean for their businesses.

Food trucks make sense for festivals and construction sites, but allowing them to set up in business districts is problematic, said Alex Amra, owner of Tobacco Road sports bar.

“What we don’t support is them coming down parking in front of our businesses we’ve worked so hard to open,” Amra said.

Previously, food truck operators had to get special permits for a limited time, a policy geared mainly toward street festivals such as Raleigh Wide Open.

“People are so enthusiastic about what food trucks can bring to an urban city,” said Nicole Belmo, co-owner of Cafe Prost, a food truck that serves German-style pretzels, brats and coffee. “Street food culture is thriving all over the world.”

But restaurant owners pointed out they pay high-dollar rent and property taxes – and shouldn’t have to compete with low-overhead operations parked outside.

“I’m the little guy who worked my way into business, and met all the regulations you put on me to do it,” said Ed Wills, owner of McDonald’s restaurants on Peace Street and near Shaw University.

The city planning commission will weigh in on the proposal in the next six weeks and send the issue back to the City Council for a final decision. On Tuesday, Mayor Charles Meeker urged food truck operators and restaurant owners to see if they can find a compromise.

Good idea, said Steve Valentino, operator of an Italian food truck. The two sides ought to team up to offer dining coupons and other discounts. “Let’s turn this conflict into some collaboration,” he said. “There are so many ways we could work together.”

Maybe there’s room for both types of businesses, said Jonathan Lubecky. “Occasionally I want to get a greasy pizza from a food truck,” he said. “But I’m not going to stop eating and drinking in these other establishments.”