Regulations a Rough Ride For Fresno Food Trucks

JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE - Kristin Stewart of Dusty Buns Bistro Bus emerges with a customer's order as other customers wait in line in the Tower District.

By Bethany Clough | The Fresno Bee

 

JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE - Kristin Stewart of Dusty Buns Bistro Bus emerges with a customer's order as other customers wait in line in the Tower District. Photo by JOHN WALKER / THE FRESNO BEE

 

 

Selling everything from tacos to gourmet grilled cheese with peppered bacon, food trucks are increasingly showing up on Fresno’s streets — but it hasn’t been an easy ride.

The city of Fresno says it wants to support such urban entrepreneurs. But food truck owners say its actions tell a different story. They say they’re required to wade through a mess of confusing and contradicting regulations, and some companies play a cat-and-mouse game of avoiding code-enforcement officers.

The issue came to a head recently, when the owners of the Dusty Buns Bistro Bus said the city told them to shut down their vintage orange-and-green truck at a weekly Wishon Avenue event that drew dozens of diners.

The move led to an outpouring of community support for Dusty Buns, including a “Save Dusty Buns” Facebook page with more than 430 fans. The mayor tweeted her support, and the city gave Dusty Buns the OK to continue operating — for now.

Meanwhile, some Tower District restaurants and organizations are speaking out with concerns over unfair competition. They fear a future in which low-budget trucks set up shop in front of their restaurants and steal customers.

Both sides agree on one thing: Something needs to be done.

With food trucks a fast-growing trend in other cities and more chefs planning to open trucks in Fresno, many say the law needs to be clear about what they can and cannot do.

The city attorney’s office is researching the issue, and the city hopes to come up with a solution, said Craig Scharton, director of the city’s Downtown and Revitalization Department.

Roadblocks

There is confusion about what exactly the rules say.

Dustin Stewart, who owns Dusty Buns with his wife, Kristin, admits the business has been operating in a “gray area” of city rules since it started last fall.

“The rules were a little sketchy and hard to pin down,” he said.

But meetings with city employees before they started led them to believe they could park and sell for 15 minutes — or until the last person in line is served.

Zoning officials did not return calls seeking comment about regulations or which rule Dusty Buns is accused of violating.

The mobile vendor ordinance makes no mention of a 15-minute time period but says trucks can stop on the street only at the request of a “bona fide purchaser.” They can only stay as long as it takes to make a sale. They can’t sell near schools and can’t block the sidewalk, among other rules.

Dusty Buns isn’t the only business running into roadblocks. The owner of San Joaquin Catering runs a commissary where dozens of trucks prepare their food. About 20 San Joaquin Catering trucks serve burgers, burritos and teriyaki bowls throughout the Fresno area.

Owner Armen Kglyan said the independent sellers who operate under his company’s name and the three trucks he runs follow zoning rules and have all the proper permits: business licenses, mobile-vendor permits and health permits.

But run-ins with city code-enforcement officers happen “all the time,” he said.

“That’s a normal issue with the city,” Kglyan said. “They run away a lot of business.”

He said that between difficulties with city rules and the recession, he knows of more than a dozen truck owners who have left the business in the past four years.

Food trucks have an easier time when they park on private property with permission of the owner. The troubles come when the trucks park on the street.

Many trucks stay on the street for longer than 15 minutes — until code enforcement shows up, Kglyan said. The officer shows up and tells the truck owner to leave or risk a ticket. The owner leaves, but returns to the spot as soon as the code-enforcement officer is gone, he said.