By Erin James | York Dispatch
Rick Zoeltsch isn’t in the business of waiting around to speak his mind.
The York City restaurateur is more than a little concerned about the future of his one-year-old business if the enthusiasm generated by an upcoming food-truck rally translates into a loosening of the city’s regulations on mobile food vendors.
There’s no such formal proposal on the table. But, Zoeltsch said, he wants the city’s leadership to know now where he stands on the issue.
“There’s a handful of small businesses here that are actually struggling right now. We’re all hanging in, but we’re struggling,” said Zoeltsch, who owns the Varsity Smoke Shack at 39 W. Market St. “If you bring food trucks in here, it’s going to take business from the places that are actually part of York.”
That’s a criticism not of FoodStruck — the first-time event scheduled for Friday, Oct. 11 — but of the mere possibility that food trucks could one day become a more permanent part of the York City landscape.
Brick-and-mortar restaurants pay property taxes, rent, utilities and other expenses that food-truck owners don’t have, Zoeltsch said. He’s worried that looser regulations would benefit the food trucks at the expense of the other restaurants.
“Our peak hour is lunch. Lunch is our business,” Zoeltsch said. “If we lose our lunch to five, six, seven food trucks, we’re all done.”
Restrictions: Currently, York City prohibits food trucks
except on construction
sites within the Central Business District — and even then limits their operation to just four hours per day.
The city offers one street-vendor license for Continental Square, currently held by the operator of a hot-dog stand.
Earlier this month, a group of friends announced their plan for FoodStruck, which will offer a four-hour downtown feeding frenzy of crepes, burgers, souvlaki and more served from the windows of 8 to 10 restaurants on wheels.
Philip Given, one of the organizers, said at the time that he was hoping the event would “spur a conversation” about possibly changing the city’s law on food trucks.
One York City councilman has balked at the idea, while another seems eager to embrace it.
Conversation: Indeed, a conversation has begun.
On Thursday, Given said he and the rest of the organizers are focused primarily on putting on a great event. Already, the FoodStruck page on Facebook has garnered more than 1,000 likes, with hundreds of people promising to attend.
“I’m excited to see the conversation unfold. I value deeply the input of restaurant owners and business owners and market vendors as well as city council,” Given said. “I want what’s best for the city, and I want to see cool stuff downtown.”
The group isn’t planning to make any formal proposal to the city, Given said. There are, however, plans in the works to host more food-truck events in York, he said.
“It’s clear to me, personally, that the conversation isn’t going away,” Given said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and what happens happens.”
Excitement: Casi Babinchak said she’s not too concerned. She’s the chief operating officer at Central Market, which increasingly acts as an incubator space for new eateries.
“Just knowing how change happens in any city, I would be hesitant that we could go from allowing only one vendor to allowing enough vendors to put other people out of business. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she said.
Babinchak said she’s excited about FoodStruck and supportive of “anything that drives traffic downtown.”
Sonia Huntzinger, executive director of Downtown Inc, echoed that sentiment.
“We are excited and enthusiastic about this event. We think it’s a great idea. It’s just one more activity on the calendar that will bring more people in and add diversity and variety to the offerings downtown,” she said.
Huntzinger said she has heard different reactions from some restaurant owners since the FoodStruck announcement.
If the city takes steps to explore a change to the food-truck ordinance, Huntzinger said she would more formally poll downtown business owners to gauge opinions. In general, Huntzinger said, she’s in favor of adding businesses “as long as it’s a fair and equitable playing field.”
“Yes, we’re happy to talk about it. We’re happy to work with the city,” she said. “These are all really good indicators that things are moving in the right direction for our downtown. It’s not like nobody wants to come down here. These are good problems to have.”