The owners and patrons of Jacksonville's food trucks have been speaking out this week following proposed city legislation some say would make operating the mobile eateries impossible.
Food trucks have become more and more popular around the country in recent years, including on the First Coast. At the same time, owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants say the mobile trucks are siphoning business away from their establishments.
Proposed new legislation to regulate food trucks in Jacksonville drew a large crowd to a public meeting on the matter yesterday.
Supporters of Councilman Reggie Brown’s bill saying more controls are needed, while opponents see the legislation as a heavy-handed attempt to quash free enterprise.
Terry Lorince, executive director of Jacksonville business organization Downtown Vision, Inc., and Dale Stoudt, co-owner of Jacksonville-based Super Food Truck, joined Melissa Ross to discuss the legislation and the city's food truck scene.
"I think a lot of the outcry simply came from the fact that we had draft legislation that was created without input from anybody who owned a food truck, and obviously nobody knew what a food truck was when they wrote the legislation," Stoudt said.
Stoudt said during discussion with city officials and residents at Wednesday's meeting, he realized that people did not understand the food truck concept or how they operate.
"The more we talked yesterday, we found out that they didn't know that we had health inspections or licenses or $1 million in insurance policies," he said.
Stoudt outlined measures in the draft legislation he said would make it impossible for food trucks to succeed in the city, namely restrictions that would prohibit the trucks from operating close to residential or commercially zoned areas.
After the meeting, Councilman Reggie Brown announced that he will form a committee made up of local stakeholders to work on refining the legislation.
"We're really excited that this conversation is actually happening and that people are talking about downtown and they're talking about the vibrancy of downtown," said Terry Lorince of Downtown Vision.
Over the last several years, Lorince said, the organization has done several surveys about making downtown more attractive to visitors, pointing to one survey completed two years ago about improving Hemming Plaza.
"Other than cleanliness and safety, the first issue that came out is (to) have more food vendors," she said.
A recent survey on improving Jacksonville Art Walk revealed similar results; people requested more food options downtown.
An online survey posted by Downtown Vision asking about food trucks following release of the draft legislation received 300 responses just yesterday.
"Of our 300 respondents, three-quarters of them basically said, we want to see them, they add to the vibrancy of downtown, and we want to seem them really with no restrictions," Lorince said.
About 16 percent of respondents did say there should be some restrictions, and that they should be mindful of existing eateries.
"They're looking for predictability," Lorince said of local restaurants. "They want to know what the rules are... they want to know how many food trucks can come, and they're also looking for communications."
Stoudt responded to the owners of local eateries who say food trucks are unfair competition by comparing the competition between stationary and mobile businesses to a food truck rally, where several food trucks operate in a specific area at the same time.
"I don't get upset when somebody looks at my window, at my menu board, and then goes to the next truck because they decided they don't want to eat what I'm serving that day," he said.
"It's about being able to choose what you want to do. Choices are exactly what's there for people, and that's what we want downtown. People want more choices to come downtown."
Stoudt said he is currently hoping to lease a previous Starbucks location downtown to open his own standalone eatery, crediting the success of the Super Food Truck with building the brand and business to make the expansion possible.
You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax.