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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Raleigh gets cold feet, punts on food trucks decision

Posted by on Tue, Jul 19, 2011 at 4:42 PM

Klausie’s pizza operator Mike Stenke feels like the Raleigh City Council left him at the altar today.

Stenke, a leading figure in food truck vendors’s fight for inclusion in the City of Oaks, was expecting the city to finally approve new rules to allow him to operate there, but instead the council sent them back to the Law and Safety Committee.

“I really heard a lot of fears and I didn’t hear a lot of courage. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought all the fears had been addressed,” he said.

“It’s like the last minute just before you get married. Get some courage and give it a shot.”

Customers wait for their orders at the Grilled Cheese Bus at an April FoodTruck Roundup at Rebus Works in Boylan Heights of Raleigh.
  • File photo by Jeremy Lange
  • Customers wait for their orders at the Grilled Cheese Bus at an April FoodTruck Roundup at Rebus Works in Boylan Heights of Raleigh.
Fittingly, Stenke’s truck was decked in a bow tie and top hat in March at Marry me Durham, a nonprofit fundraiser celebrating Bull City idiosyncrasies. He joked that though he married Durham, Raleigh, where he resides, won’t even give him a date.

Under the proposed rules, which have already been approved by the Planning Commission, food trucks could operate in Raleigh as long as they are located 100 feet from restaurants, 50 feet from food carts and restrict themselves to one truck per half-acre parking lot and no more than three trucks in a lot at the same time.

Currently, trucks can conduct business in Raleigh only with special vendor permits, which are only good for 20 days or four consecutive weekends, and only on private lots with the owner's permission.

On Tuesday, Stenke sat startled in the back row of Council Chambers wearing a black apron with specks of flour adorning it. He had just served the lunch rush on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus, one of only a few sites where trucks are allowed.

He first petitioned the council for new food truck rules last fall and has been pitching the idea to everyone who will listen ever since, often with a free slice of his Detroit-style pie. He promotes food trucks as small business incubators that can add culture to the city.

“I’m very disappointed; I’m caught off guard by it,” Stenke said after the vote, adding that he expected to be giving a far different interview.

“It really seemed like this was a great rule for restaurants, a great rule for consumers and it was an OK rule for food truck owners, but at least it was a small opening.”

Key among the concerns from council members were the distance from current restaurants, emissions from truck generators, enforcement, impact on travel lanes and possible late-night shenanigans.

“I can see this being a real problem, specifically in my district,” said Councilman Thomas Crowder, who doesn’t want trucks doing business past 10 p.m. “We have children trying to go to school. I can see some real issues there.”

Crowder also wants to ensure rules prevent food truck rodeos, popular events in Durham and in Carrboro where several trucks combine to form a food court of sorts.

“I have quite a few concerns for this, to be honest,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin also wanted to make sure that rules don’t restrict food trucks from operating in the few spaces where they have been working, specifically at Big Boss and Boylan Heights breweries.

“We don’t want to give something and then take something away,” she said.

“Obviously we are a long way from where we thought we might have been,” Councilman John Odom concluded.

Raleigh’s Law and Public Safety Committee will consider food trucks at it’s next meeting, slated for 9 a.m. Tuesday in Room 305 of the Avery C. Upchurch Government complex at 222 W. Hargett St.

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