Cleveland: The Anti-Food Truck City

Cleveland's DIM & DEN SUM Food Truck

Posted by Vince Grzegorek |

Cleveland's DIM & DEN SUM Food Truck

Dim and Den Sum, the most widely recognized of Cleveland’s food trucks, was in the news again in recent weeks, but not for anything coming out of its kitchen. Owner Chris Hodgson was vocal on Facebook, Twitter, and in media interviews about Cleveland’s patently ridiculous restrictions on food trucks.

But how hard could it be, right? Get a truck, get a permit, get inspected, pick a spot, serve food. Yeah, not so fast my friend.

While new legislation is making its way through council to clear up the city’s regulations on food trucks, the process by which food trucks currently can do business is, at the very least, convoluted and, more accurately, incredibly prohibitive to the point you’d be surprised anyway would willingly take on the endeavor. What’s worse: the new legislation represents only a modicum of improvement.

Scene’s own Doug Trattner explains in this week’s Fresh Water Cleveland:

Instead of having to secure one or two simple permits, a new truck is required to obtain as many as 25 separate permits at a cost of over $3,000, explain those familiar with the process. Operators must provide detailed external and internal architectural plans of their rig for approval by the city planning department. Owners must also submit a detailed menu, even though that menu is likely to change often. And then there’s the 50-page application.

The prize waiting for operators who make it out of that permitting process is a hodgepodge of confusing, contradictory and business-killing regulations. Rather than have free and unfettered access to customers, food trucks must seek permission from the council member of each ward in which they’d like to operate. Parks require special permits from the Parks Department.

Because the laws are so complex, even those tasked with enforcing them get it wrong much of the time, improperly shutting down trucks with appropriate permits.

What will change? For starters, there would be three areas designated “downtown” where food trucks could set up shop, including one on E. 9th. Wait, just three? That doesn’t seem like a lot. And how are they supposed to draw foot traffic from, say, over on W. 9th by Scene’s offices all the way over to E. 9th? (Yeah, we don’t like walking much.)

Cimperman says that he’s been getting pressure from restaurants who are afraid that food trucks would steal away valuable business.

The response from the industry, via Fresh Water again:

“Trucks have proven to not be competitive with restaurants,” says Lizzie Caston, a communications pro who consults with cities on modernizing food truck policy. “They are what is known as ‘complimentary retail’ that attracts people who want to sit at a bar, cafe or restaurant for a different kind of meal.”