Mike Stenke parked his Klausie's Pizza food truck on the corner of Dawson and Hargett streets, just across the street from the Avery C. Upchurch Municipal Building on Tuesday night and handed out two pizzas worth of warm, gooey bite-sized free samples to build favor for proposed zoning changes that would allow him to regularly operate in the city.
John and Karla Schriner of Knightdale each bought a shirt with a picture of a food truck and text reading, “Legalize It.”
“It’s a lot harder for them to get permits here,” Karla said. “A lot of good food trucks stay in Durham and don’t ever come here. It’s just a culture that’s kind of cool, plus you’ve got to support your local independent business no matter what.”
“He seems like the kind of guy who is at the forefront of this and really a leader,” McCraven said. “I hope it really works out for Raleigh. We need it. It’s a scene.”
Inside City Hall, elected officials were considering text amendments that would allow trucks to park on private lots provided that they have permission from the owners and that they are 50 feet away from eateries. The public hearing stirred the debate between mobile food operators, both existing and aspiring, and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners, who cried “unfair competition.”
The proposal also would require food truck proprietors to safely dispose of waste and grease each day and does not allow for signage or audio amplification.
“I want to applaud the City Council for the great work they’ve done working toward this proposal,” said Stenke, who has been pushing the council since September to draft rules to allow food trucks.
“It goes a long way toward making a level playing field.”
But several restaurant owners such as Alex Amra of Tobacco Road said the field isn’t level as long as truck owners don’t have to pay rent.
“I love competition,” he said after the hearing. “But I love competition that has the same overhead and bills I do.”
"If someone wants to hold an event in the restaurant, we'll rent the restaurant out," says Wilma Dillard, who ran her family's business until it closed last month due to an uncertain economy.
As for the new use of the former dining space, Dillard explains, "The building is still ours and it felt wrong to put someone else in it. I don't know how it will go, but I have nothing to lose by trying."
Since the restaurant closed, Dillard has taken on a new role as the marketing director at Chick-Fil-A on Hillsborough Road in Durham. But she still has her family's recipes close at hand.
In addition to Dillard's much loved mustard-dressed barbecue—something of an anomaly in North Carolina—her restaurant will offer some of the sides for which is was known, including carrot soufflé. Barbecue will be available for events outside of the building, too. Contact Dillard at the restaurant (919-544-1587) to schedule off-site catering, or to pick up barbecue on the last two Saturdays in May. Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on May 21 and May 28, Dillard will open her doors to sell barbecue by the pound. "For anyone who calls, we'll have barbecue," she says. And with that, Dillard's is back, at least in moderation.
Not long ago I profiled the fledgling Berenbaum's bakery, which sets up a table across the street from the Durham Farmers' Market on Saturdays and is now offering what proprietor Ari Berenbaum calls a "CSB"—a community-supported bakery in the well-established CSA tradition.
Berenbaum's is unusual for multiple reasons. The first of them is quite obvious. To refresh the memory:
The first provocation comes when you fish out your money to pay and are told that your bread, donut, granola, etc. (there’s also coffee) costs whatever you feel like paying. The proprietor, Ari Berenbaum, says that "people like the gambit,” as he calls his fair-price practice.
The thinker and the tinkerer meet up often in Berenbaum's strategies. For example, he has already rethought the term "fair-price" for his business, and decided to replace it instead with "sliding-scale," which more accurately gets at what he's after—Berenbaum thinks "there’s a feeling of guilt" that tends to visit customers when they are forced to come up with a "fair" price (fair to whom, anyway?). "Sliding scale" reminds people that "they’re one buyer in a community of buyers in different income classes," Berenbaum says. The concept raises awareness, socially and economically, and "results in more contemplation on the part of the buyer," he believes. He also believes it has made him more money.
If pricing is "the first provocation," what's the second? Less obvious, but potentially deeper and more unsettling than the idea of sliding-scale pricing, I had to see it evolve a little before I was sure it was there—and it is there, even though Berenbaum doesn't intend it himself. It has to do with the meaning of a Jewish bakery.
Before the locavore/foodie craze erupted in Durham, Sara often seemed to have more asparagus than she could sell—so much more, in fact, that she was in a position to recommend to me bags of bent and broken spears at a steep discount. These would be cut up and then find their way into soups, omelets, risottos or, along with young potatoes arriving at the market in late April, re-conceived "Niçoise" salads; or they'd just get thrown whole into boiling water for 45 seconds and then devoured.
Times have changed, of course—for the better—and Sara no longer pushes broken stalks of asparagus on me. I don't think she even brings them to the market anymore; if she does, they're earmarked for other buyers, which is fine with me. I'm happy to buy the unbroken spears, because the asparagus season is a short one, usually over and done with by mid-May, and because Catbriar Farm is one of very few vendors with reasonable prices. Might as well get the top of the crop and gorge yourself on asparagus while you can.
Last week, a chat I had with Sara while visiting her table—she currently has wonderful spring onions, too—got me thinking more about the Durham food boom. It's wonderful—that is the first thing to be said about it. The second is: We need to take good care of it. A minor threat lurks, and it's lurking in our own enthusiasm.