Richmond, VA: Is food truck ordinance too restrictive?

Taylor Six/The Register The Chuck Wagon food truck run by Rick Johnson and Mitch Sanders which opened this year.

By Taylor Six  |  Richmond Register

With the Richmond City Commission to discuss and potentially approve the first reading of Ordinance 19-24, or “the food truck” ordinance, some food truck owners are planning to attend Tuesday night’s meeting as they feel the document is “too restrictive.”

One of which is Charley Hamilton, a food truck owner himself, and co-owner of Dreaming Creek Brewery on E. Irvine Street in Richmond.

“It seems very restrictive in the way it is written currently,” he told The Register Monday. “It eliminates all of downtown with the areas outlined, which doesn’t affect us at the brewery but eliminates the option to set up downtown for farmers markets or things like that.”

In the proposed ordinance, food trucks are not allowed to operate from Church Street to Collins Street or between Water and Irvine Streets, unless they are approved for a special event.

City Manager Rob Minerich said the city decided to draft the ordinance after an incident took place on Main Street in which a vendor took up several parking spaces and ran cables inside a business to use electric, but the vendor did have their permission.

In the draft, it states that vendors can operate only in a business or industrial zone. It says they cannot operate within 15 feet of a driveway or other main vehicular entrance, within a city parking lot, on private property without consent, during a city event without written consent of the coordinator, within a city park without permission, within 100 feet of a residential dwelling or on EKU’s campus without consent.

Vendors also are not permitted to use electrical power from any outside source involving extension cords or cables to bring power to the mobile unit.

“That part eliminates all food trucks because you have to have power,” Hamilton said. “When we opened the brewery, we specifically talked to food truck vendors to see what they needed as far as water and electric supply.”

One big problem for Hamilton that he sees with the ordinance is that it does not discern from public or private property.

“I understand the need for rules, but they went out of their way to make this restrictive,” he said. “There is no reason that they wouldn’t be able to use our electricity if we allow it. The way the ordinance is written it doesn’t discern from public or private property, it just says ‘You can’t do that, period.'”

With food trucks as their only means of serving food to patrons, Hamilton is worried about losing food vendors, a lot of which come from out of town, and are the most desired.

“I have pretty big concerns and this will eliminate them from coming,” he said.

One of Dreaming Creek’s regular food truck vendors is from Madison County, The Chuck Wagon, owned by Rick Johnson and Mitch Sanders.

While Johnson thinks that an ordinance is necessary, he feels it needs to be fair for mobile vendors and brick and mortar businesses alike and clearer as to what vendors can and can’t do.

“A couple of issues I see with the proposed ordinance are the areas from Church St. over to Water (St.) and down to Collins and Irvine St(reets) being restricted,” he said. “Of course, Lancaster Ave. would be the other boundary. I feel that it should be amended to say that if a local business owner gives a food truck permission to set up at their business, there’s no issue. I know that parking spaces would be off limits.”

He went on to address the issue of cords and cables stating, “Then there’s one part that talks about cords or cables. A food truck has to have electricity for the water pump and refrigeration by health department codes. And you have to have lights. All those things are run by a generator…We are currently working with the city commission to address some of these things and come up with an ordinance that works for everyone.”

And while some native vendors are finding that the proposed ordinance is a bit too restrictive, Nathan and Rachel Stepek, owners of Handlebar Nate’s Grill and Catering, think that other cities have more restrictive ordinances.

“Corbin was the first to push through a food truck ordinance,” Rachel Stepek said. “It is more restrictive in that food trucks must be at least 50 feet from any other restaurant, and in a small town that isn’t very easy. We don’t set up in Corbin now, except for special city-sponsored events in which we are quite well received.”

The couple, who serves mostly in the London and Williamsburg area, are licensed to serve statewide and say one of their favorite places to set up is in Berea, having not made their way to Richmond yet.

In terms of the city’s proposed ordinance, Nathan Stepek says that “it looks pretty straight forward.”

“We are not familiar with the streets outlined in the ordinance. I hope that food trucks owners who are familiar do their part to ensure their future success,” he said. “Food truck owners are community members like anyone else, and the 14th amendment protects their rights as business owners like any other.”

He suggested leniency for food trucks that are only in the area for a day a week to better allow food trucks to operate.

“I have noticed that most trucks don’t really travel except for festivals,” he said. “Static locations are better when you have to pay for a business license in every city. If they want to encourage food trucks from nearby towns a cheaper option or a reciprocal agreement with nearby towns could make trucks travel more.”

In a meeting last month, Minerich said the city wants feedback from folks doing business.

“We want to make the town as user friendly as we can, but we have to put something in place where they can’t just set up shop in front of a restaurant,” he said at the meeting..

“The last thing we want to do is hinder them or their operation if they are operating the right way,” Commissioner Jacob Grant said.

To read the ordinance, visit, and click on 2019 Ordinances.