The Truck Stops Here?

Brian Bottger of Durham's Only Burger
Brian Bottger of Durham's Only Burger Food Truck

BY ANDREA WEIGL | Staff Writer | New Observer

When I moved to Raleigh a decade ago, I lived a block off Glenwood South.

It wasn’t the lively, bar and restaurant scene surrounded by high-rise condos and apartments that we know today. There were a few bars and restaurants – 518 West, Hibernian, Rockford and Sushi Blues. But those seven blocks were on the verge of transformation. There was a vibe that would make Glenwood South Raleigh’s nightlife epicenter.

I remember the moment several years later when I considered that true: when I saw hot dog carts parked on the corners feeding late-night revelers. They made the city feel metropolitan.

Ever since, I’ve been waiting for the next sign: food trucks.

Raleigh doesn’t permit food trucks to park on city streets. Foodies have to travel to Durham or Carrboro to get a fix. (Chapel Hill doesn’t permit food trucks, but a taco truck is often parked where Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street ends and Carrboro’s Main Street begins.)

A few weeks ago, when an out-of-town food writer asked for a tour of the Triangle food truck scene, I trekked to Durham. We tasted doughy pizza, a burger topped with fried green tomatoes, crispy french fries, country breakfast sausage with maple butter and stewed apples, Italian sausage with spicy fennel chow chow and for dessert, pumpkin bread pudding with fresh whipped cream. City councils in Raleigh and Chapel Hill have been asked to change the rules. The earliest either would take up the issue is next month.

There are good arguments on both sides of the debate.

Food truck owners say Raleigh should encourage small business owners. They argue that the city doesn’t prevent restaurants from opening next door to one another, so why prevent a food truck from parking on the same street as a restaurant? Besides, they say, fostering competition will make the food scene better and may help trucks become brick-and-mortar establishments.

Raleigh restaurant owners don’t like the idea of trucks invading their turf. They pay high-dollar rents and property taxes for their prime locations. The last thing they want is a low-overhead operation parked outside, diverting customers.

I don’t know what the solution is: Maybe food truck zones near downtown and Glenwood South, or designated parking lots where food trucks can congregate , or restricted hours so food trucks open when most restaurant kitchens are closed.

I’m not ready to believe that Raleigh isn’t cosmopolitan enough to foster a food truck scene.

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