Thursday, February 3, 2011

Food Fight: Area Food Trucks v. City Hall

Duke Law and food trucks go together like radishes on a taco (and if that simile is puzzling, you’ve never had a real taco). After all, the Law School’s Epicurean Society founded Carpe Durham, the local food blog which frequently reviews new trucks and recently released a beta map tracking current truck locations via Twitter. In 2009, two students enrolled in Entertainment Law used our Student Media Workshop to assist in the preparation of their class project: a short film called Tacomentary: The Durham Taco Story, which featured interviews with local truck vendors. And though they’ve mostly shifted to late-night hours parking on West Campus, the OnlyBurger truck used to be a common lunchtime choice for Law School students and staff.

So it’s no surprise that the Goodson Blogson was interested to read yesterday’s Bull City Rising article, discussing current food truck legal controversies in the Triangle. Food truck vendors are subject to a dizzying number of local ordinances, administrative regulations, and permit restrictions, many of which were written before the recent spike in truck popularity (in just the last few years, our local options for “truck fare” have expanded from tacos and ice cream to burgers, hot dogs, pizza, Indian food, Korean BBQ, crepes, cupcakes, and even sausage). Staying on the right side of local laws can be so difficult that even JD holders might have trouble, as one law school grad who operates a Philadelphia cupcake truck learned last year.

Many local vendors are requesting that government officials review and revise their current rules to create a more level playing field for food trucks. As the article notes, Durham is considered to have more permissive food truck regulations than elsewhere in the Triangle (the Independent Weekly reported last November on the legal battles faced in Raleigh by the operator of a pizza truck). But even within Durham, food truck operators can easily run afoul of regulations, like when a local hot dog truck owner was informed of a clash between his temporary-use permit and his planned parking space.

So what’s a friendly neighborhood food vendor (or food truck aficionado) to do? The Goodson Blogson covered researching local ordinances last June, and many of the tips there will turn up zoning ordinances and possibly permit information which are relevant to mobile food businesses. Just like brick & mortar restaurants, food trucks are subject to health inspections by county health departments; Durham County provides a link to an online search form (you can limit "type" to "3 - Mobile Food" to review all food truck inspections); other county departments can be accessed on this statewide list). The local news sources which are cited in the June 2010 blog post are also a great source to track current developments on City Councils, as the vendors’ appeals are considered and ordinances are revised. If you’re interested to learn more about sources for local ordinances and local news, be sure to Ask a Librarian.