Keep on Truckin' | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Keep on Truckin' 

With lawmakers dropping regulations, state food truck industry motors on.

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Daysha Felipe, owner of The Salty Pineapple, was among those present on the Hill in February, when SB 250 was introduced. - ANNIE KNOX
  • Annie Knox
  • Daysha Felipe, owner of The Salty Pineapple, was among those present on the Hill in February, when SB 250 was introduced.

Remember when Marco Gutierrez, founder of Latinos for Trump, went on MSNBC and warned that in Hillary Clinton's America, cities would be inundated with taco trucks on every corner?

The internet does. The comment ignited a celebratory meme-storm, poking fun at Gutierrez' attempt to scaremonger voters by demonizing food venders. The irony is that his dire warning sounded pretty swell to the local web contingent. Who, after all, doesn't like taco trucks?

Perhaps Gutierrez. Or maybe he just doesn't keep abreast of culinary trends.

Food trucks offer easy access to delicious cuisine at great prices—undoubtedly the reason the industry has seen a rapid rise in Utah. Taylor Harris, owner and general manager of the Food Truck League, says the coalition grew from about 30 members to more than 100 in less than two years.

The league helps organize regular food gatherings, where several establishments meet in a public space and offer their fare. Every night of the week, there's a food truck rendezvous somewhere along the Wasatch Front.

"We focus on bringing great food and community together," Harris says. "There is a small business aspect where you get to eat something different and creative, and there's a community aspect. We partner with cities and partner with neighborhoods to bring food into family-friendly spaces where everyone can get something that they want. It's a good time."

From 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Thursdays, for example, a fleet of food trucks sets up for lunch on Gallivan Avenue in downtown Salt Lake City. From Provo to Ogden and most stops in between, food truck outings are becoming a staple summer night dining option.

Food trucks are so ubiquitous that they were even parked near the front steps of the Utah Capitol one afternoon during a recent legislative session. But, while they dished up lunch, the businesses actually were there to rally behind Senate Bill 250.

Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, sponsored a bill to cut away regulatory red tape that has hampered the industry.

The nature of the business is that the food comes to a place near you. But in doing so, the trucks cross into new jurisdictions, which have their own set of rules. Described as a "patchwork of regulations," these could include fees levied per day, quarterly or annually. Before the bill, one city might have enforced a fee per location while another did not. And some cities charged land use fees on top of business-license fees. Most cities required their own health and safety inspections, ensuring that the licensee would have to get signed off in each new city.

"These regulations varied so much from city to city," Henderson says. And trying to comply, she added, they become burdensome, expensive and hard to anticipate.

The bill passed through the Legislature with scant opposition—Rep. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, joked during a committee hearing that he needed a waffle to fully understand the issue—and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert on March 20.

"We and the entire food-truck industry [of] over 100 trucks ... is appreciative and grateful," Harris says. "Everyone worked to find common grounds. It's a good solution for the public, the cities, organizers, the trucks."

The new law asked that jurisdictions reciprocate duplicative inspections. Food trucks still are required to obtain business licenses in each municipality in which they sell meals, but licensing fees cannot be prohibitive.

Cities will continue to regulate land use, as well. This will ensure that a food truck can't park on the curb in front of an established restaurant, blocking traffic or signage, unless the city or property owner allows it. This was one of the concerns by restaurateurs that was addressed at a meeting early in the process, Henderson notes.

Representatives from the League of Cities and Towns, the Utah Fire Prevention Board and Libertas Institute all testified in favor of the bill. Ted Black, chief deputy state fire marshal, said the measure would "set a common standard for fire safety in these facilities."

With a streamlined permitting process, cities will also no longer be able to insist food-truck operators undergo background checks. Harris says members who had prior records, who paid their debt to society, were having trouble finding work and rehabilitating their lives because some cities demanded to know their criminal histories—a hurdle that is not mandated at brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Under the revised law, a food truck is distinct from an ice-cream truck, which travels through neighborhoods, often beckoning children by blaring a tune through a loudspeaker. "A background check will continue to be required for ice-cream trucks which travel to people's homes," Harris says. "But people come to food trucks."

The Other Side Academy is a nonprofit that helps get folks back on their feet after they've been in trouble with the law or if they've decided their current lifestyle will inevitably lead to legal issues. Tim Stay, CEO of Other Side Academy, says one way to help with rehabilitation is to teach clients vocational skills, through an academy-sponsored moving company and a food truck called the Promise Land Food Truck. (Stay says the Other Side is rebranding the operation to be the Other Side Food Truck.)

"Many of our students have never held a long-term job, and developed anti-social behaviors," he says. And the food truck, which offers sweet or savory funnel cakes, helps them establish routine practices that would be expected on a jobsite, like, "How to come back from break, come back from lunch, take orders from a boss," he says. "We want them to take pride in the work."

The Promise Land/Other Side food truck operates about five nights a week.

To help find out where it or other food trucks will be on a given night, the Food Truck League has developed a free mobile application. When a restaurant can relocate as seamlessly as a food truck, Harris says one of the problems is that customers don't know where a truck will be. The solution, according to Harris, is in the app.

It's no surprise that the Food Truck League would turn to innovative technology to support the industry. Harris still sees food trucks as an up-and-coming market, one to which the law books didn't quite apply. "Frequently, when we have new industry or innovative business practice, old laws don't fit," he says.

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