Big Daddy's Dawgs owner Jeff Dziubla stands next to the trailer that allows him to sell everything he has in his bricks-and-mortar restaurant in Bloomington. He did a brisk business his first weekend of ISU tailgating and plans to be set up at Weaver's Rent-All across from Handcock Stadium for every home game.~ Photo provided by Jeff Dziubla.
The National Restaurant Association says food trucks are one of the hottest trends in food service. Last week, I wrote about one experiment in Champaign which, according to the Assistant City Planning Director Robert Kowalski ”hasn’t caused an outcry” from bricks-and-mortar restaurants. But, some Uptown Normal owners of businesses such as The Rock and D. P. Dough don’t like the idea of food trucks invading their territory.
D. P. Dough owner Ryan Fiala says "Uptown Normal is home to more than 20 foodservice establishments. While allowing mobile vending in Uptown might introduce some new cuisine, it would also bring operators like Big Daddy's Dawgs and potentially Carl's Ice Cream whose product offerings would compete directly with existing restaurants." He adds, "Mobile vending is a wonderful concept for areas where foodservice options are limited or non-existent; conversely, in a developed and still rapidly developing area like Uptown Normal, they represent a zero-sum game by taking business from brick-and-mortar restaurants who have invested in the Uptown area."
In Bloomington, the city has taken a pretty laid back approach. Director of Planning and Code Enforcement Mark Huber says there’s no specific ordinance for food trucks but there is a street vendor license that must be obtained through the city clerk’s office. In his words, “There might be a couple of loose ends but city code pretty much allows them to happen.” He says, “As long as there are restrooms nearby its ok to park on a public street or private business as long as they have permission.” But, like other cities, the code as written did not envision mobile food trucks. “If it’s parked legally, my understanding at this point is that for the most part, I don’t see any reason why we can’t make it happen.”
As for gripes that might come from existing business, Huber says, “The fact that we already have food vendors downtown, adding another one is not much different I guess.” That’s good news for owners/operator of the Two Blokes and a Bus. A double-decker bus formerly used for public transportation in Kilmarnock, Scotland is being converted to a mobile food truck. Owners Steffen Block and Jon Fritzen are performing artisan work to convert the bus, outfitting it with nearly a full kitchen with a serving window in the lower deck and seating for 22 in the upper deck.
The town of Normal code restricts mobile food vendors to areas of private, commercially zoned property, and requires they meet health department rules. Big Daddy’s Dawgs owner/operator Jeff Dziubla since March has been successfully operating a trailer that allows him to cook everything he offers in his restaurant at 120 Krispy Kreme Drive Bloomington.
Dziubla sets up every other week in the parking lot at AFNI and most recently he had a banner day after striking a deal to park his trailer at Weaver’s Rent All along Main Street in Normal for the ISU Family Weekend game against Eastern Illinois University. You’ll see him again at Homecoming this weekend as the Redbirds take on the Southern Illinois Salukis. He says it’s been a great way to expand his visibility and get people to try his food who might not otherwise venture out of their neighborhood for dining.
The town staff this summer proposed options to further regulate and restrict food trucks, including prohibitting amplified sound, diesel generators, tables and chairs, signs beyond the truck or trailer and requiring owners submit an operating plan. The town council seemed luke -warm to the idea of adding restrictions. Town Planner Mercy Davison says the council seems to be taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t seem them coming back to us anytime soon asking for an ordinance.” But, what if the Two Blokes or anyone else for that matter wanted to set up in a town-owned parking lot or deck? “They would have to approach us and ask and we would have to think about that. We probably wouldn’t be interested because parking is such a premium but I could be wrong.”
So for now the food truck debate seems to be on simmer. It could heat up again once warmer weather returns. Stay tuned.
Colleen can be reached at email@example.com