This double-decker bus is also known as Victoria and owners hope to operate their Two Bloke and a Bus street vendor business from it. This summer, they catered a 10 year anniversary for the Coffee Hound in downtown Bloomington, Photo courtesy of Two Blokes and a Bus. ~Photo courtesy of Karen Hanrahan Photography.
I thought I would give you something to chew on as the debate over mobile food trucks continues in Normal. The debate has been sparked by various requests from operators wanting to use a grill on a trailer to the proposal by owners of Two Blokes and a Bus who have a double-decker bus with a kitchen on the first floor and seating on the second. In May, the City of Champaign launched the Mobile Food Truck Pilot Project to provide an opportunity for mobile food truck vending and to observe their impacts as the city council there considers existing regulations for their operations. The Champaign experiment was supposed to last only through the summer but a few weeks ago the city council decided to extend it to a full year-long test.
Vendors have to obtain a permit for $50 which requires proof of insurance and bonding for the use of public right-of-way. Why such a cheap permit? Assistant Planning Director Rob Kowalski said they set a low price because the city council really wanted to encourage participation. He admits if the city decides to move ahead with the food truck ordinance, that fee would likely be closer to what it costs for a peddler's permit -- $250 a year. Champaign already allowed food trucks on private property but under the pilot, vendors can operate in not heavily used loading dock zones within seven designated areas-four in Downtown and three in Campustown. Vendors would be able to operate a minimum of two hours at a time per location and locations have hours limited to 7:00 a.m. to 11 p.m. However, Kowalski says after three months, the city council decided to extend operating hours until 3 a.m. for Campustown so vendors could take advantage of the after-hours bar crowd.
Other lessons learned so far:
•Noise is an unanticipated problem. The pilot requires mobile food vendors to be responsible for providing and then removing trash receptacles and collecting debris within 100 feet of the sales location but the provisions don’t include a noise restriction. Kowalski says, “We have one truck that is pretty loud and has generated a lot of complaints and concerns. That’s something we’ll definitely have to address.”
•"Kowalski says the two-hour limit seems a little impractical. “A two-hour limit for one location is pretty short. By the time they get spot, get cooking and get customers … the two hours seem to go pretty quick.” So how do they handle it? “We have to chase them around a bit – kind of have to schoo them out. I think this is a pilot so at some point, we’ll look at duration longer than two hours,” he said.
Unfair competition for existing restaurants?
“Generally, there’s been no outcry,” according to Kowalski. “Part of it is the kind of trucks we have and the locations we picked. They’re far enough away from restaurants but not on the edge of town.
He adds, “We were very strategic about where they should locate.” The experiment so far has been with Burrito King which has a bricks and mortar restaurant, a Pappa John’s Pizza trailer and Cracked which is strictly a mobile operation specializing in egg sandwiches. Kowalski thinks the city of Champaign is getting it right by not being so restrictive that mobile operators won’t be able to succeed. “Don’t say you want them and then set up rules that make it impossible to operate. We tried not to load up the rules and I think we’ve done a good job.”
Meanwhile, Peoria recently voted 6-5 against an ordinance that would have allowed permits for three food truck operators. Mayor Jim Ardis said, “I firmly do not think this will create new people spending money to eat out in Peoria.”
Chicago recently loosened its regulations so now operators are allowed to cook and assemble their menu items on site instead of preparing and packaging them beforehand. They can also operate longer -- until 2 a.m. in six major business districts — Lakeview, Lincoln Park, the Near North and Near West sides, West Town and the Loop.
Next week: A Bloomington-based restaurant operator shares his story of expanding in to the food truck business and a look at what’s happening in Bloomington with food trucks.
Colleen Reynolds can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org