Good news for foodies in the Triangle: Chapel Hill's Town Council has cut fees and amended rules to make the town more food truck friendly. With new policies, the council hopes more food trucks will come find their home on the hill.
Currently only one food truck—Baguettaboutit, which sells North Carolina-made sausage tucked in French baguettes—is approved to sell in Chapel Hill.
This likely will change after Monday night’s meeting, at which council members unanimously agreed to reduce the annual regulatory fee for food trucks from $600 to $200. They also approved measures allowing trucks to provide catering services and to participate in special events and markets in town.
“We realize that we have limited places in town where we were allowing food trucks, and we wanted to make it available anywhere they could be appropriate,” Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.
Before they can roll in Chapel Hill, food truck owners must navigate through the red tape of forms and fees. Annual regulatory fees cover on-site inspections making sure that food trucks follow zoning, health and safety laws. The trucks also face an annual $25 business license fee and a one-time $118 zoning compliance fee to sell in a given location. Ideally, property owners pay this zoning cost, but food truck owners may be responsible for the bill if they want to sell in lots where owners won’t pay.
For food truck markets or “rodeos,” event organizers will be charged $200 for inspections, but the fee is waived for nonprofits such as churches and schools.
These new rules will be a game-changer for Tracy Livers, an owner of Olde North State BBQ food truck and catering business, who attended the meeting to advocate for food trucks. When the council set the regulatory fee at $600 in 2012, Livers stopped bringing her food truck to Chapel Hill. With the fee cut, Livers plans to return, and she anticipates other food trucks will join her.
Livers said the new rules reflect a changing attitude toward food trucks in Chapel Hill. “I think as a whole, when we first started, it was a new concept and people were kind of scared about food trucks,” she said. “But now that they realize we are inspected by the health department, in general people have become more comfortable with food trucks.”
Livers currently sells in Durham, Raleigh, Cary, Saxapahaw, Pittsboro and Morrisville, and she sees a need for food trucks in Chapel Hill. “There are places that food trucks can go where restaurants can’t, like to swimming pools that don’t have food, and to community and neighborhood parties and fundraisers,” she said.
Yet as Mayor Pro Tem Ed Harrison notes, Chapel Hill can’t compete with bigger cities that have more space for food trucks, with ample parking lots and wider sidewalks.
“There are a thousand more places for food trucks in Durham,” Harrison said. “Durham is six times the size of Chapel Hill and people don’t realize that. You could fit a whole other Chapel Hill in Durham and not even notice.”
Still, Councilman Lee Storrow said he hopes the reduced fees and new opportunities for markets will still make Chapel Hill a more competitive destination for food trucks.
“I think they bring vibrancy and energy to urban settings and give consumers options,” Storrow said. “In this difficult economic climate, they give entrepreneurs innovative ways to start new businesses and get their feet wet in a market.”
Jill Warren Lucas, who writes about food for INDY Week and her blog Eating My Words, is the only home cook in the South invited to join The New York Times' Julia Moskin for an online chat as part of the Recipe Lab series.
The event will be streamed live Wednesday, May 15, at 8 p.m. It focuses on a specific recipe in the new cookbook The Way to Fry by Norman King, a lifelong Southerner and Test Kitchen pro at Southern Living magazine.
Among a string of historic storefronts on Durham's East Main Street—torn down and rebuilt during the Prohibition era—the new Bar Lusconi is luring modern drinkers into a new era of beer and wine.
Narrowly tucked into 117B E. Main St., Bar Lusconi presented a thriving and casual soft opening last night.
It is the second bar by Timothy Neill and Jesse Gerstl, owners of the slick, unmarked speakeasy, Peccadillo, in Carrboro, which opened less than two years ago.
With a well-curated repertoire of international beer and wine, Neill aims to "get the best beer and wine possible," paying close attention to the more obscure.
"Basically, some of our smaller distributors say, 'we have only 10 cases of this,' and we'll just snap them up."
Modest simplicity determines both bar concepts. Just as Peccadillo has become the coy neighborhood bar in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, Durham residents can expect to be charmed by Bar Lusconi's hospitality and cozy, candle-lit ambiance.
"Tim does a really great job at making you feel like you've been invited over to someone's home," says Lewis Norton, a longtime bartender in downtown Raleigh who came to the opening. "Except it's more comfortable than that, because it's less of a ceremony. There's an art to making your customer feel that way."
Bartender Dean James noted that the short bar at the back of the narrow, 600-square-foot space is tight, encouraging that personal connection to each customer.
Last night, he and Neill poured wine tableside for service industry friends and curious new customers lounging along the wooden drink rail and at the few, high four-top tables.
Glasses included a 2007 Bender Pinot Noir from Germany ("It's the last of it, so drink up," Neill commented to customers) and an Italian Lini Lambrusco, a full, tangy, sparkling red.
Neill says wine prices start at $42 a bottle, finishing at $86, with beer at $7 a glass and closing out at $27.
Tall, bare walls reveal rustic splotches of white and pale blue, their original red finish still intact as a wide border at the top, leading to a tin ceiling.
"You find the space before the concept is in place," Neill says. "We fell in love with the ceilings, it was all just super beautiful."
The original wood floors contained water damage. What remained of the salvaged wood were tawny, weathered slabs to build the bar, drink rail and all tables. Underneath, a speckled, burgundy red floor was polished and left intact.
As for the name, it is not a deliberate pun alluding to Italy's scandalous former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"I named the bar after Jesse's cat [the late Lusconi]," Neill jokes. "He wasn't even very fond of him, and I find it hilarious."
Bar Lusconi is open Wednesday through Saturday 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The best barbecue joints often boast piles: a cord of wood, visible by the side of the restaurant; a heap of slaw, ready to cool pepper-spiked pork; a mess of banana pudding, to finish things off.
At yesterday's private viewing of The Pit, a barbecue restaurant scheduled to open this July at Durham's former 7UP bottling plant, the piles were different. Old sinks, toilets and pipes filled one side of the warehouse in the Central Park district. Computer monitors were stacked in another, and a 7UP vending machine peeked from behind an oversized board. But among all the mess was barbecue, which steamed on a table in the center of the space.
The event was part of Preservation Durham's quarterly "Hidden Durham" series, which gives members a look at various spots under renovation. "We're the cool kids that get you behind the scenes," says Executive Director Wendy Hillis. Approximately 80 members toured the facility yesterday with representatives from Alliance Architecture, Empire Hardhat Construction and Empire Properties, which owns The Pit in Raleigh that cooks whole hogs.
"There were 10,000 water bottles everywhere," Alliance's John Warasila said, describing the building when they first acquired it. He stood in front of a plan for the new space, which depicted a rooftop deck in addition to a patio on the Rigsbee Avenue side of the building.
"We want to be part of the street scene," he explained, referring to the mass of folks who regularly spill onto Rigsbee from Fullsteam brewery and Motorco Music Hall for the food trucks that gather nearby.
With that in mind, several attendees voiced concerns about parking in the area. According to Warasila, The Pit will offer valet service, as it does in Raleigh.
Compared with its Raleigh counterpart, Durham's location will boast a bigger kitchen to take on regional catering orders. Additional plans include a private dining area and a bar near the entrance on Rigsbee.
As the tour revealed, there's still a great deal of work to be done, including leveling a concrete floor that currently has an 18-inch slope. Several beams overhead will also be raised and replaced.
"When will you open?" one man asked the renovation team while eyeing the space. "July," Warasila confidently answered.
"What year?" the man quipped back. But soon after, he joined others for a bite of a barbecue sandwich.
If you work in tourism or the food business in Durham, the phones may have already started ringing.
Durham was named the Tastiest Town in the South by Southern Living , which announced the winner of the contest this morning.
Now, if the Bull City could only make a decent bagel.
Good timing: Three days before Top of the Hill’s TOPO Piedmont Gin debuts on Sunday, the company has announced its brewery and distillery won a total of four medals in beer and spirits competitions this week.
The Chapel Hill brewery won two platinum medals for its Rams Head IPA and Singleton Ale at the World Beer Championships in Chicago. The distillery’s vodka and Carolina whiskey earned silver medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Sixty-three countries and 1,407 spirits competed for honors.
TOPO beers are available only at the brewery. The spirits are available in ABC stores and bars in North Carolina. The gin will be available Sunday at Top of the Hill Restaurant.
Although we're well into the 21st century, people of color continue to experience discrimination in regards to food: access to healthy choices, the treatment of farmworkers and land ownership.
“Race is a very dark place,” food activist and former civil rights attorney Maya Wiley said at a lecture Wednesday night in Durham. “We need to acknowledge how the food system is not working in ways that aren’t always visible to us. When we’re talking about race, we’re talking about all of us. Because we all have one.”
At Center for Environmental Farming System’s 2013 Sustainable Agriculture Lecture, Wiley retold the story of the 21-year-old man who left a life of gang violence and became a food activist. Now he grows and sells produce in his neighborhood through SWARM (Students Working for an Agricultural Revolutionary Movement), a program supported by CEFS and directed by Shorlette Ammons.
“We have to shine a light in dark places,” she recalls him saying.
Wiley is president of the Center for Social Inclusion, a national public policy strategy and research organization based in New York City. She works to protect the rights of disadvantaged communities through policy change. Many of the Center’s programs focus on social disparity in the South as it relates to improving a food system rife with racial inequity.
“People are struggling to help their communities survive,” Wiley told INDY Week in an interview prior to her speech. “Survival in the sense of having healthy food. Youth are in literal, physical danger to gun violence and gangs. It’s about saving the community. And all of their stories [in Goldsboro] were about how they were trying to recreate a sense of community and community connection, and how food was a theme in that.”
Wiley spoke comprehensively about what food justice means to communities, particularly communities of color as both farmers and consumers. In 2007, black land ownership in the U.S. increased, but, North Carolina experienced a drastic dip due to unfair or no opportunities for farmers of color.
The message she delivered was familiar to the audience. The free, public event included scientists, agroecologists, local government officials, university professors, high school teachers, farmers, chefs, community organizers and other local food advocates who have been part of a movement for a more fair food system for decades.
But what was unusual was that race was broached outside of activist circles or conferences, and instead brought up explicitly in a public food-focused event.
Wiley’s candid approach emphasized the inclusion of all underrepresented minorities.
“You can say that some white farmers are sharecroppers,” she said. “We want to pay attention to the white farmers enslaved by the contract of a stateless corporation.”
“We want to pay attention to 90 percent of migrant farmworkers who speak Spanish,” she continued. “And their children who, while we have child protection laws in this country, can legally work in the fields. That migrant farmworker makes about $11,000 a year. That is not enough to feed their family.”
On New Year’s Eve, Congress quietly passed the extension of the 2008 farm bill, with drastic ramifications. Funding was slashed for healthy eating programs for food stamp recipients. Money was cut for organic agriculture. Specialty crop grants for a rural development program were axed altogether.
These are among the issues Jared Cates wants to see supported in the next farm bill that Congress is scheduled to pass this year. At a talk at the Irregardless Café in Raleigh, Cates, who works for the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, a nonprofit focused on local, organic food, discussed how federal agriculture policy affects communities, the environment and personal health.
In the 2012 fiscal cliff commotion, you may have heard that the Food, Conservation and Energy Act, or the 2008 farm bill, expired. You may have heard people freaking out about the possibility of $7 gallons of milk.
The federal farm bill actually expired in September. House speaker John Boehner continuously refused, in Cates’ words, to bring new legislation to the House floor for a vote. “I was not surprised,’ Cates said. ‘The can was just kicked further down the road. I’m not surprised it happened at midnight, on New Year’s Eve, when everyone was on vacation.”
He’s referring to last-minute bipartisan legislation that extended the previous farm bill but that significantly cut important programs. These reductions could threaten North Carolina farmers and consumers alike. Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, called the deal “blatantly anti-reform.”
The bulk of the 2008 farm bill—almost 70 percent of its $289 billion allocation—went to nutrition assistance programs. According to the 2010 U.S. census, 17.8 percent of the state’s population lived below the poverty line, a traditional indicator of food stamp eligibility. Between 2007 and 2009, 8.6 percent of the population of the 13th Congressional District, which includes parts of Raleigh, for example, used food stamp benefits, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Several other North Carolina initiatives, including one that would bring a mini-mobile farmer’s market to communities across the state, and another that would offer revolving loans to farmers’ markets, were cut under the extension legislation.
“It’s something we all need to be aware of,’ Cates told his audience, ‘because you are what your policy tells you to eat. .We need a farm bill for the next five years that supports community, environmental and personal health. We need to fight to get programs back into the farm bill.”
Jared Cates of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association speaks tonight on the environmental, agricultural and nutritional implications of the federal farm bill.
The 2008 Farm Bill expired last year; although Congress failed to renew it, lawmakers extended it until a new agreement can be reached.
The event runs from 7—8 p.m. at Irregardless Cafe, 901 W. Morgan St., Raleigh. It is free.
When a serial entrepreneur, an industrial engineer, a restaurant owner and two Englishmen share a love of British hops, they join forces to present Cary's first full-scale brewery. Fortnight Brewing Company, scheduled to open at the end of the summer, is finalizing a location on the west side of town.
Named for the two weeks it takes for their brews to ferment, Fortnight Brewing Company was conceived by IT specialist Stuart Arnold and salesman Mo Mercado. The team has since grown by three, most recently with the addition of Cary Mellow Mushroom owner Will Greczyn. His wife, Kate, plans to work the bar and push the brews, as is common among pub wives in England. "Will loves English beer, he just wants to promote it so much. He's the perfect person, with his wife, to educate people when they come into the bar," Arnold says.
Fortnight plans to serve a number of English beers made with genuine UK hops and malt. Their pale ale, what the Brits call a "bitter," will have a base of Maris Otter malt, giving it a smooth nutty, flavor. Arnold says their English IPA is earthy, and contains about 4 percent alcohol.
"Sometimes it's refreshing to taste your pint, then drink it as quickly as possible," Arnold says. "There are a lot of things missing from American beer because there's such a high alcohol content."
That's right, less alcohol. (However, there also will be a selection of stronger beers, including an extra special pale (ESP) ale and several seasonal brews). England is known for its session beers, in which beer drinkers belly up to the bar and throw a few back without worrying about getting too drunk.
Greg Lewis, a hops expert and native Englishman, says Maris Otter is "a great British malting barley," and that we can expect a nice, "warm, gentle, bitter beer style" with a good body.
The Fuggle and East Kent Goldings aroma hops will give the brews a classic English aroma. "If they don't overdo the alcohol content, they'll produce beers that people can probably sit down and drink three, four, even five glasses at a sitting," Lewis says.