By Benedict Brook | News.com.au
THEY’VE only been around for a few years but food trucks — the cooler, more sophisticated cousin of the old burger — have revolutionised the restaurant scene.
But wacky regulations, that differ wildly from council to council, are threatening to stop the trucks in their tracks. In some cases, red tape means food trucks can sell their epicurean offerings on one side of the road but not the other.
It’s just one example of mass confusion which has seen Sydney fall behind Melbourne in the number of food trucks and led Labor to demand consistent rules for the trucks throughout the city.
Joe Jackson set up Sydney-based vegetarian food truck Vejoes last month with a $100,000 investment, including the cost of his brightly coloured truck emblazoned with cartoon veggies.
The 26-year-old foodie entrepreneur told news.com.au he will need to sell a whole lot of Cajun black bean quesadillas and grilled corn to pay off the substantial debt. “It’s going to be a hard slog but the more I can serve the less of hard slog it will be.”
However, Mr Jackson said the multitude of different rules was holding back his business, preventing him from employing more staff and leading to fewer opportunities for food truck fans to try the tasty treats.
“It’s madness, it took me 12 months of paperwork before I even had the truck in a position to run as a business and then when you start it’s so inconsistent,” said Mr Jackson. “It’s different from council to council so you have to call every time you want to drive somewhere.”
IT CAN’T BE THAT HARD
While he can work at events, the bread and butter of food trucks, whether he can set up on busy streets depends on which of Sydney’s more than 20 council areas he is parked in.
In the busy inner west suburb of Newtown, Vejoes can sell food on one side of the road but is barred from doing so just feet away on the other side. This is due to the fact the suburb straddles two local authorities with the City of Sydney embracing food trucks and the Marrickville shunning them.
Council fees can also vary from place to place but simpler rules would mean Mr Jackson could rock up at will to busy spots across the city.
“Going to the beach would be pretty cool. We’d put speakers on the truck and make a really nice atmosphere and as we don’t have an alcohol licence people wouldn’t be boozy; they’d just be enjoying the food. But [because of the difficulty] you pretty much don’t do street service anywhere else apart from the City of Sydney.”
He could also employ more staff. “I don’t want to work seven days a week but I would want the truck out seven days so I’d need people to help me.”
Mr Jackson said Sydney’s food truck scene was a sorry snag compared to the gourmet banger that was Melbourne: “Catch up is an understatement, Melbourne has around 105 food trucks yet Sydney has just under 40, less than half, but everyone I speak to is super excited to eat out of them.
“It really does seem like some councils don’t want to deal with them. It can’t be that hard,” he said.
Labor Member of the Legislative Council, Daniel Mookhey, told news.com.au the Government should take action so Mr Jackson, and others, could get out on the road more often.
“The current regulations governing food trucks are just too confusing for operators to understand.
“One set code for councils to adopt makes sense. It creates a standard that food truck operators know they have to meet and makes it easy for hungry people to access them,” he said.
“All of Sydney deserves a thriving cuisine scene and should be able to enjoy food trucks and the great food they serve.”
A City of Sydney spokeswoman said some councils were already working with the same regulations, but there was a long way to go.
“Parramatta and Liverpool councils are accepting food trucks with City of Sydney permits to trade in their areas and in the future we’re hoping that other councils will also adopt a form of food truck approvals so that we can have food trucks trading across the borders of Sydney.
“Food truck businesses are as small and as local as it gets and when allowed to thrive, they bring incredible innovation to our local communities. Some of the chefs out there are trying out some pretty quirky cuisines and people love it” she said.
NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, Victor Dominello, said the Government was aiming to reduce regulation with a new initiative called Easy to Do Business.
“Small businesses make a profound contribution to NSW’s economy but are impacted by unnecessary red tape.
“The initiative will apply the ‘tell us once’ approach to government-small business transactions and engages councils with the aim of simplifying licensing requirements for small business across a range of industries.”
A Marrickville Council spokeswoman confirmed food trucks were currently banned in the local authority, that covers much of Sydney’s inner west, but the decision was under review.
“The City of Sydney food truck policy is being looked at as a model for what might be implemented in Marrickville,” she said.