Door County, WI: Food truck operators win day in court over Door County ban

By Benjamin Yount  |  The Center Square

Chris Hadraba and his Door County partners hope to resume serving burgers and barbecue next summer. 

Hadraba, his wife Jessica, and Lisa and Kevin Howard together operate the White Cottage Red Door in Fish Creek. They also ran a food truck in their parking lot – until Door County officials shut it down. 

Town officials in Gibraltar, which oversees Fish Creek, banned their food truck in 2017.

A judge in Sturgeon Bay this week ruled against Gibraltar, which wanted the case tossed out. 

Gibralter had imposed rules on food trucks that included requiring a town license, which it would grant only if food truck proprietors operated in areas lacking traditional restaurants or during hours when those restaurants were closed. Additionally, food trucks were not allowed to provide customers outside seating.

Andrew Wimer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which provided legal representation for the Hadrabas and the Howards, says local leaders decided that the food truck was too much competition for local restaurants. 

“They [Habrabas and Howards] went through a state registration process, they went through a county registration process, and they opened up their business thinking they had done everything right,” Wimer said. “Only when they did that did a town official show up and say ‘You’re not allowed to do this.'”

Wimer said Wisconsin allows for food trucks and Door County allows for food trucks. And at the time, Fish Creek and Gibraltar didn’t have any rules one way or the other. 

That changed when the folks at the White Cottage Red Door opened. 

“They just kinda post-facto decided to ban all food trucks, ‘all vending on wheels’ is the way they described it,” Wimer said. 

The Hadrabas and the Howards sued. 

“I hope that the courts find that there’s no good reason to have these requirements,” Chris Hadraba said in a statement. “I just want to be able to vend again.”

Wimer says the case is not just about this food truck in this town. He notes that leaders in Gibraltar eventually changed their rules to allow just the food truck at the White Cottage Red Door, but still ban them everywhere else.

“This case is representative of the way a lot of municipalities, big and small, act toward people who are trying to do something creative with their economic liberty,” Wimer said. “We are hopeful that another Wisconsin court will rule strongly in favor of economic freedom.”

Wimer said the Institute for Justice won a case for home bakers in Wisconsin a few years ago. Wisconsin lawmakers also took a a step toward economic freedom this fall when they rolled back rules that stopped children from operating lemonade stands in their yards.

Gibraltar Town Board Chairman Richard Skare did not respond to a request for comment.