Food truck supporters say rule changes could make Dallas a friendlier city for street food

“If you want to do a pop-up as a caterer and you get a temporary event permit, you can set up a tent, a table, a fridge and a flat top. And that’s fine,” the owner of Large pancakes & caterer mentioned. “But [in Dallas] you may not be allowed to move your cart within the block.

Shewry and other local food vendors hope the Dallas City Council will change regulations that will make it easier to use food trailers and carts, which are typically cheaper to buy and operate than a food truck. Sellers would also like to see less restrictive rules for food trucks. City leaders are expected to address those issues at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Proposed Amendments to the Ordinance would like to:

  • Revise the term “mobile catering establishment” to include both food trucks and food trailers.
  • Allow food trucks and trailers to cook raw chicken and fish on site.
  • Require weekly rather than daily “commissioner visits”. Vendors must pay a fee during these visits, when their food trucks undergo maintenance and cleanliness checks.

Shewry said daily visits to the police station were expensive.

“It’s prohibitively expensive. It’s $30 to $40 an hour,” he said. “And to run a successful business, you’ll need 50-100 hours of preparation per month. And you’re looking at $1,500-$3,000 now, if not more.

A commissary is a commercial kitchen where food trucks can prepare, cook, and store their food. Food truck operators can also clean up their wastewater. Many commissaries also provide food trucks and other mobile vendors with overnight parking and equipment storage.

Shewry agrees that the commissioner’s visits are necessary. But he said they are long, expensive and distant.

Krista Nightengale, executive director of the nonprofit better block in Dallas, said most commissioners are in North Dallas.

“If you own a food truck in South Dallas, you have to drive north every day to return your truck and then pick it up the next day,” she said.

Cities like Austin, Nightengale said, have police departments that come straight to the trucks.

Dallas currently makes a distinction between motorized food trucks and trailers or carts. For example, food trucks pay an annual fee $330 permit fee to operate — while food trailers may have to pay upwards of $250 in fees per day at events they work.

Nightengale said the current rules create a burden for people who want to buy food trailers and use them to start their own business.

“Trailers cost less on entry,” Nightengale said. “People can go get a trailer and test their concept before spending two or three times as much on a truck or a lot more than that on a brick and mortar.”

She said the current rules create barriers and limitations, especially for people of color. Historically, limited financial resources and barriers to obtaining loans have made it more difficult for many minorities to start their own business.

Having more food trucks, trailers and carts in Dallas could also mean residents of underserved neighborhoods — especially in so-called “food deserts” — have more options.

Better Block recently trialled a temporary food park in South Dallas for food trailers, food trucks, and carts. The organization wanted to “deepen the conversation about allowing more affordable and rapidly deployable food retail options in the city of Dallas,” according to its website.

Some council members favor changes to the ordinance.

“It started with a fundamental fairness issue,” said Council Member Chad West. this prescription that food trucks have had.

Shewry said Austin has a vibrant mobile food scene because there are fewer hoops to jump through. But he thinks the Dallas food scene could be a place with food truck yards and food trailer parks.

“It’s about being able to get this process in place quickly with as little bureaucracy as possible,” he said. “I just don’t see how giving greater access to people with exciting new food ideas is a bad thing.”

Do you have any advice? Alejandra Martinez is a Report for America body member for KERA News. Email Alejandra at [email protected]. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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