Food Truck Owners Look to Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill residents Giulia Pancani and Katie Schuler enjoy a picnic at Carrboro's first food truck showcase. (Carrboro Commons Staff photo by Gloria Lloyd)

By Susan Dickson | The Carrboro Citizen

Chapel Hill residents Giulia Pancani and Katie Schuler enjoy a picnic at Carrboro's first food truck showcase. (Carrboro Commons Staff photo by Gloria Lloyd)

CHAPEL HILL – Chapel Hill could soon see food trucks within town limits. Food truck owners, town staff and other community members mulled just how the trucks could operate at a public forum on Monday at Chapel Hill Town Hall.

The Chapel Hill Town Council directed staff in May to develop draft regulations that would allow the trucks in town, and town principal planner Kendal Brown presented a draft ordinance with proposed permitted uses and regulations on Monday.

The discussion stems from a petition last September by Lex Alexander, owner of 3Cups café on Elliot Road, that the town change regulations to allow food trucks. Town regulations allow them downtown during town-sponsored events, such as Festifall, and on private property with special-events permits.

Chapel Hill’s draft ordinance proposes allowing food trucks on private, commercially zoned paved lots with at least 10 parking spaces and an existing business in a permanent building. In the downtown area, trucks would only be allowed to operate while the business was closed, and would have to be at least 200 feet from the customer entrance of a restaurant. No more than one truck would be allowed per parking lot.

Outside of the downtown area, trucks could operate while the existing business was open and trucks would be limited to one vendor per acre or per 100 parking spaces, not to exceed two vendors per lot.

“We’re thinking other commercial districts have larger parking lots, so there’s a little more flexibility there,” Brown said.

Food trucks are defined by the ordinance as “readily movable motorized wheeled vehicle[s], registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles designed and equipped to serve food.”

Operators questioned why the town would limit the definition to trucks, which would preclude those who sell food out of trailers, like Jody Argote, owner of Parlez-Vous Crepe. Food truck owners also proposed allowing the businesses whose lots the trucks would use to determine whether they could operate while the business was open. In addition, attendees questioned the 10-space minimum for parking lots where the trucks could operate.

“If there’s 10 feet free and clear around the food truck, to me that should be adequate,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Ward said. “I think there might be some little cubby holes around here. … Why not let them consider that option?”

Ward also stressed the importance of the operators paying sales tax to Orange County.
“One of the reasons that the town is interested in looking into this … is to have it be an extension of buying local, but that only makes sense if you folks are putting your sales tax on prepared food into Orange County and not into your Durham commissary.”

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt agreed, saying that he wants to confirm that vendors who sell in Orange County are paying tax to Orange County before he is supportive of allowing food trucks in Chapel Hill.

Several food truck operators said that while they have commissaries in other counties, they pay local sales tax in Orange County based on their sales.

Carrboro and Durham allow food trucks within their jurisdictions and Raleigh officials are considering changing regulations to allow mobile food vendors. Some local restaurant owners oppose allowing food trucks, saying they present unfair competition in an already very tough restaurant market.

Carol Edenton, owner of Will and Pop’s food truck, said she felt the food trucks could help bring business to restaurants, not steal it.

“I wish they would go to Durham and see what the food trucks do for their business, because it’s not a bad thing,” she said. At a recent food truck rodeo, “all the restaurants were packed.”

The planning board will discuss food trucks on Sept. 20, with a public hearing set for Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The council could take action in November. To submit comments regarding the draft ordinance, email