City considering move to regulate trucks, carts
News that the city is considering regulating food carts or trucks for downtown registered in Richter-scale fashion among Jackson restaurateurs Thursday.
But illegal street food sales are ongoing around the city, said Ward 1 Councilman Quentin Whitwell.
“I already have concerns about illegal catering,” Whitwell said. “That includes barbecue pits at convenience stores without permits and food being sold after hours outside bars on a regular basis – and outside of construction sites that no one is dealing with right now.”
City deputy planning director Bennie Hopkins acknowledged that some are getting away with unlicensed, uninspected food sales.
Hopkins said citizens should report such places when they encounter them.
“We need to know about them and make sure they are licensed,” he said.
Hopkins along with Whitwell and city attorneys have drafted a proposed ordinance that would regulate food carts in designated spots. A City Council committee meeting in which the proposal was to be discussed was canceled Thursday for unrelated reasons, rules committee chairman Kenneth Stokes said.
But restaurant owners, as well as those who hope to open food trucks and carts in the city, are eager to learn more of the draft ordinance and have their say.
“As a restaurateur … the idea of having a mobile food service entity move at will to sell food at peak times and take business from the very neighborhoods we’ve worked and built up – that’s a concern,” said Sal & Mookie’s owner Jeff Good, who qualified his concerns by saying he approves the intent of the plan.
“Making Jackson hip and trendy – I want that, too,” he said.
But Good and others said recession profit margins already are small, and if not written well, such an ordinance could severely damage their businesses.
“Restaurants downtown live by lunch,” Good said. “You’re paying rent by selling five meals a day.
“I would be very worried to see the potential for trucks to descend on downtown – which provides a great quality of life but could be make or break on restaurants, which in turn would decrease quality of life.”
That said, Steve Long, owner of Steve’s Deli on Congress Street, said he wants in.
“I’m in favor, because I want to participate,” Long said.
Entrepreneur Sid Scott and Underground 119 chef Tom Ramsey are seeking approval for their plan to open Gringo Tacos and Tortas, a mobile food service that will serve Mexican po’ boys and fresh tacos with tortillas made on site.
“If somebody’s afraid to compete with a food truck, what are they trying to hide?” Ramsey said.
But Long acknowledges that food trucks can be a threat.
“More restaurants just dilutes the pot, and the number of business people downtown has not grown in the eight years I’ve been there.”
He believes owning a truck will complement his restaurant.
“I’d treat it as an extension of my brick and mortar place,” Long said. “There are several spots that need something, and you have such a limited time frame to operate that I just see it as a good way for restaurants to maximize those two hours.”
Rooster’s and Basil’s owner Nathan Glenn said he doesn’t think Jackson can support the food truck scene.
“I don’t see this as a big foot-traffic city,” he said, comparing Jackson to other places that have made the concept popular, like Austin and Birmingham. “The population counts in Austin demand food vendors, and we have plenty.”
Glenn also doubts Jackson can provide enough vendors to make it worthwhile.
“Nobody in there has ability to pull off higher end stuff they’re talking about in Austin,” Glenn said. “Not that many restaurateurs in Jackson really cook. About a dozen. The rest heat and serve.”