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Salt Lake City Food-Truck Regulations in the Air?

Keep truckin': Mobile food vendors hope changes to regulations will allow more vending downtown.

By Jesse Fruhwirth
Posted // April 5,2011 -

Julie Sheehan cooks out of and drives Torta Truck, her Italian-food business that she started in November, a few months after Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker gave public assurances that the city’s food-truck ordinances would be loosened. Those ordinances are under review now, but Sheehan is frustrated there hasn’t been more progress. Indeed, Chow Truck, another food truck, was recently told by the city that it can no longer park at Gallivan Center, one of that business’s most lucrative parking locations.

“I know that SuAn [Chow, owner of Chow Truck,] is going downtown more than I am right now. Actually, knowing that [SuAn] has had a hard time with the city, I haven’t really explored [operating there],” Sheehan says. “There’s places downtown I would love to go. … It’s a frustration, and I’ve learned a lot in watching what the Chow Truck has gone through. In other cities, [mobile food vendors] are all over downtown.”

Chow Truck often parks in a pull-out on Gallivan Avenue. KUTV’s news trucks are authorized to park there, and they gave permission to Chow Truck to park there occasionally, as well. But Chow Truck recently started getting parking tickets from Salt Lake City despite that permission.

“I’ve been told KUTV does not have authorization to give permission for anyone other than media trucks to park on their strip,” Chow says. “The only thing that can be [done] is for the city to change its ordinances for food trucks. I can’t get anywhere near downtown the way the ordinances are currently structured.”

Salt Lake City’s small-business economic-development director, Dan Velazquez, calls Chow “a pioneer” for her outspoken advocacy of food trucks and city reforms. In June 2010, Chow complained about ordinances that require food trucks to stay in one location for only two-hour stints, even if they’re on private property. Chow began lobbying the city for changes, and on January 11, Chow’s persistence resulted in a mobile-business discussion at a Salt Lake City Planning Commission meeting. In particular, Chow wants changes to the two-hour limit and also a system of granting food trucks access to park and vend on public roads and parks.

Relative to numerous Salt Lake City food carts—which are regulated separately—there are very few food trucks in Salt Lake City. Carts pay a fee for assigned spots on specific street corners and are not subject to the two-hour time limit. Trucks, which require more space than the carts, can’t apply for a specific spot and, Chow says, are virtually locked out of operating on any public spaces. Trucks and carts, just like restaurants, must get business insurance, comply with food safety rules, etc.

“Part of the direction for the planning commission was to go out and revisit ordinances in places where [food truck regulations] are very successful,” Velazquez says.

Portland, Ore., for example, has more than 450 mobile food vendors and has seen a 40 percent increase in vendors since studying the industry and revising the regulations two years ago. That city’s research shows that mobile food vendors “have positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower-density residential neighborhoods as well as in the high-density downtown area.” Portland’s research has also noted that mobile food vending businesses are a significant entry to business ownership for women, minorities and immigrants.

Other cities have responded to food carts differently. According to Portland’s research, Los Angeles County changed its regulations so that mobile food vendors had to move operations once every hour, drastically reducing viability of the business model in that city. That was partly in response to complaints from fixed-location restaurants that said the mobile vendors—with significantly lower overhead than restaurants—present unfair competition.

Melva Sine, the CEO of the Utah Restaurant Association, says her organization is watching the city closely to ensure any new regulations are fair.

Food trucks, food carts and restaurants, for example, should have equal requirements for food safety and similar fees, she says. Sine says the city must implement regulations, however, that would prevent, say, an Italian-food truck from parking outside an Italian-food restaurant. “Any regulation developed is going to give them a defined area where they can or can’t go,” Sine says. “We have a farmers market. A lot of people like them, but we don’t put them outside a competing facility. … In terms of competition, [food trucks] are going to have to be a reasonable [distance] away from anyone in the competitive marketplace, just like food carts presently.”

But, she says, Salt Lake City is growing and becoming more metropolitan. As a result, there’s a market for food on-the-go from food carts and trucks that wasn’t there before. “It’s a big marketplace, and everybody playing on a level playing field is what we want to work toward.”

In Portland, many mobile food vendors congregate on “brown fields,” or lots that are undeveloped or blighted. Chow says the challenge she faces is that downtown Salt Lake City has so few unused spaces that are close to customers. Scouting new locations for the trucks, she says, is a full-time job unto itself.

“I’ve been trying to find a location where I could park the truck that has visibility and accessibility to people downtown,” she says, “and it’s really a challenge.”

Chow maintains there’s a thriving food-cart industry just waiting to burst in Salt Lake City. “There’s not many of us out there, but there are certainly a lot of people who want to be out there. I get e-mails on a weekly basis and sometimes multiple times per week, from people wanting information, wanting to know what’s going on and wanting to do a truck themselves.”

Sheehan, of the Torta Truck, says the situation is frustrating, and expressed some regret about starting her business in Salt Lake City as opposed to another city where the food-truck industry—and regulations—are more established. “Food trucks are new to Salt Lake. Sometimes, it takes a little while to get things changed,” she says. “Things can’t change overnight. I understand that.”

Chow is negotiating for special permits or a temporary waiver of the food-truck location and twohour regulations while they are under review, but does not know if she’ll be back to Gallivan. That disappoints customers like Ellesse Hargreaves. She ordered lunch from Chow Truck March 31—the business’s last day on Gallivan Avenue—and was disappointed Chow Truck may not be back—at least not for awhile. “I look forward to Thursdays when it’s here,” she says. “It’s a shame. This is a perfectly good street.”

Click here to find Torta Truck or Chow Truck.

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Post a comment
Posted // January 24,2012 at 23:35

What does parking outside a similar restaurant have to do with it? What if a brick and morter asian restaurant opened shop on the same street or even next door? It's called competition and it's a healthy thing for economic liberty. So don't be such a fascist. And yes this is for you "Anonymous". 


Posted // April 13,2011 at 11:06

Anonymous: Please to get bent.


Posted // April 18,2011 at 15:22 - Start from the beginning. Begin with my first simple comment and allow the context to sink in. It's all easy to see, I've explained everything many times over. If it weren't completely out of context, your comment would have validity. For example, I'm not complaining that Chow sits in Eggs in the City parking lot and I wouldn't. I see that as a mutually beneficial relationship, not unfairly competitive, thoughtless or rude. But thanks for the lesson. As far as Musci goes, again, he used his name, not me. I've covered that. Aren't you bored yet? I sure am.


Posted // April 18,2011 at 09:14 - Yeah, I guess Dr. Musci should be grateful, too, for the wonderful "lessons" you've shared with us here. Did you ever, in your self-rightoeus need to "teach," stop to think that Susie's truck attracts people to a location where they just might decide to go inside and sit down rather than eat standing at the truck or sitting in their car? Did I just "teach" you something? You're welcome.


Posted // April 15,2011 at 11:21 - Tempting, but no. You don't want that anymore than Provo Boy does. If you can, just accept this as a favor for opening your eyes a bit. Perhaps changes will be made to prevent this in the future but that won't help if the right person becomes curious. I am not a hacker and am not using any software. You can do this. With the right aptitude, a ten year old kid can do this. What can I say? I'm curious about my "neighbors" and this is interesting. That's all, nothing more. But more importantly, Chow is a hypocrite for complaining that it's difficult for her to do business in town while making it difficult for other businesses to operate by parking her truck in their parking lot and taking their potential customers.


Posted // April 15,2011 at 09:38 - Sounds like City Weekly has a poster with access to trace software and he's wielding it in these pages. Anyone feel the chill? Where am I posting from, Anonymous?


Posted // April 14,2011 at 09:13 - Actually, you're not a preacher, Provo/Cascadian. But you knew that already.


Posted // April 13,2011 at 15:44 - Hey you, Provo Girl, Cascadian, or whatever it is you'll call yourself next time. Why not stick with one handle per article? That way, you'll avoid confusing people that aren't as savvy as I am. Should you be telling people to "get bent" while posting from church? Is that how Presbyterian's are supposed to behave? Hell, you're probably the preacher over there at First Pres. Wouldn't be much of a surprise, really.


Posted // April 13,2011 at 15:32 - Please to get bent? Is this colloquial Provo? No, I get it, but your pseudo-intellectual attempt at insulting me bombed. My "Bent" is an ability and occasional desire to hold the proverbial mirror up and show people what they're wearing. What Chow did was rude and thoughtless and was illuminated by the line I quoted from the article. Not one of you have been able to refute my position, resorting, instead, to lame insults and limp strawman tactics. Next time Chow seeks attention for her business, maybe she'd better be more careful about how she's running it and who she's stepping on while doing so? Some of us out here, like me, actually pay attention.


Posted // April 5,2011 at 22:49

That building with the three business are all related, I do business with the Southeast Market and they invited me to park there. So not shitty or thoughtless - we all help each other.


Posted // April 6,2011 at 09:50 - I know about the building and the the owners. I wonder if you asked the owner of the restaurant how he feels about what you are doing. I'm quite sure you did not. If I owned a food coach, say, Mexican style, I'd never have even considered asking to park my Mexican food coach just outside a Mexican restaurant in the first place. And if I were asked to do so by an adjacent business, I'd kindly refuse based on common decency as I know I can park my truck elsewhere, someplace I wasn't going to be in direct competition with a restaurant that does not have the options I do. But I guess that's just me. If you think you're helping South China House by parking just next to it, selling your own brand of Asian-style food, filtering patrons off of South China House, I can only say that you and I are very different people. What if I followed you around town setting up my Asian Taco Cart ten feet from your coach every time you parked? My cart costs even less than your coach to operate, I can afford to do the same kind of food you do and sell if for less. How would you feel about that? Would you say that I was helping you and your business?


Posted // April 5,2011 at 12:40

Since moving here from Portland, I've really missed having access to inexpensive artisan food at carts and trucks.

Once they loosened the laws, I saw more personality and vibrance develop in Downtown and SE Portland. The argument that carts present unfair competition feels rather hollow.

If the city wants more life in Downtown, they need to stop pandering to the status quo and simply let local business happen.


Posted // April 5,2011 at 10:33

Hey, Anonymous. Do you even know what kind of food Chow serves in her truck? It might have some inspiration from asian cuisine, but it's basically tacos, sliders and other stuff like that. How does that directly compete with a full service Chinese restaurant?


Posted // April 5,2011 at 11:48 - South China House serves Vietnamese and Chinese food. The Chow Truck states that it serves "Haute Asian Cuisine". You state that the Chow truck takes inspiration from Asian cuisine. Chow is parking a "Haute Asian Cuisine" food coach just outside a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant and is taking potential business away from the restaurant by doing so. How about you tell me how that isn't thoughtless and shitty?