West Monroe, LA: Mobile Food Vending is No Easy Task

The Slider Rider vehicle parks outside the company's home of operations in West Monroe. (Photo: MARGARET CROFT/THE NEWS-STAR )

By Kaleb Causey  |  The News-Star

The Slider Rider vehicle parks outside the company's home of operations in West Monroe. (Photo: MARGARET CROFT/THE NEWS-STAR )
The Slider Rider vehicle parks outside the company’s home of operations in West Monroe.

Chad Cowie just wants people to understand what it takes to operate his truck, the Slider Rider.

Cowie serves as vice president of Central Oil, the parent company of Central Station. The Slider Rider is a mobile food vendor operated by Central Station with two goals, according to Cowie.

“(Those goals are) to build our Central Station brand and to give back to the community,” he said. “We want people to say, ‘Where’s the Slider Rider?’”

Cowie worked with Monroe City Council Chairman Ray Armstrong to author an ordinance that would allow mobile food vendors to operate in the city.

That ordinance, which was originally brought up in the spring, was challenged by owners of restaurants, specifically in southern Monroe who were worried about being put out of business.

“There were concerns, particularly in south Monroe, about competition and so forth,” said Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo at a news conference last Wednesday. “It was delayed and Dr. Armstrong went back to look at what he could do to change it.”

Armstrong rewrote the ordinance and included specific locations where vendors could operate. That ordinance passed council with a 3-1 vote in October, and Mayo signed it last Wednesday.

“I do not believe that the fears that some of the people have are warranted,” Armstrong said at a council meeting in October. “It is appropriate that what we’ve done (by passing the ordinance) is level the playing field.”

For Cowie, a lot of that fear came from people who were not educated in the process of mobile food vending.

“They voiced their opinion, but I think those businesses down in south Monroe were not educated on what all it takes to get a food truck up and running,” he said. “I think they thought you just buy a truck, put a grill on it, and go. That’s not the case.

“Brick and mortar restaurants in south Monroe thought we were just going to come in here and line up across the street from them and try to put them out of business. That’s obviously not the case.”

According to the Louisiana Public Health Sanitary Code, “Mobile food establishments, mobile retail food stores/markets and pushcarts shall operate from a commissary or other fixed food establishment and shall report at least daily to such location for all supplies and for all cleaning and servicing operations.”

Cowie said the standards are no different for vendors and fixed restaurants.

“They are exactly the same,” he said. “We have all the things that you’re supposed to have, on our truck, just smaller. That’s why we have to have the commissary.”

The truck features several items, including: a grill, fryers, prep table, sink, hand sink, ventilation hood, fire extinguishers, a restaurant-style cash register and credit card machine, bun warmers, meat warmers, refrigerator, freezers, water heater, waste water tank, fresh water tank, generator and propane tanks for the generator.

There are also similar items in the commissary, which is set up at one of Central Station’s convenience stores in West Monroe.

“In the commissary, we have all the same things, just bigger,” he said. “We have a walk-in cooler and freezer. We also have a grease trap.”

Cowie said the Slider Rider undergoes health inspections, just as any restaurant would.

“We have nailed our health inspections,” he said. “Actually, on the food truck, they get a little bit more involved. Because they have to get under the truck and make sure you have your waste water and fresh water. You have to be able to dispose of it.”

Operators of the Slider Rider start their day at the commissary.

“We come in here to get all of our things that we are going to need for the event,” Cowie said. “It’s a process, but you have to have a commissary per the health department … to operate a food truck.”

After the truck is loaded, the workers head to their event, which is usually a community event where they are either fundraising for an organization or giving out food for free, Cowie said.

“A majority of the food that has been served off that truck has gone as donations and fundraising for the communities,” he said. “We’re not out there trying to make a fortune off that food truck. We’re out there to build our brand and help our community.”

Some of those community events include setting up at University of Louisiana at Monroe football games and giving part of the proceeds back to the university, feeding storm victims free of charge after two tornadoes devastated the area in October and feeding homeless veterans at an event last Friday.

Cowie said even with the new ordinance that will allow his truck to operate within the city, he will still focus on giving back to the community.

“That will always be part of what we do,” he said. “As long as there is people out there in need, we’ll be there.”

Cowie offered a challenge to businesses in south Monroe and around the area that may not understand how their operation works.

“I’d like to challenge any of those brick and mortar restaurants in south Monroe,” he said. “I would love to see them line up side-by-side and give back to the community with us.”

At the end of the day, Cowie said it all goes back to his two main goals.

“If it’s good for the brand and it’s good for the community, you’re going to find the Slider Rider there,” he said.