Judging by the crowd of more 75 people attending last night's food truck information session at Modified Arts, you can bet Phoenix will see new mobile food vendors up and running soon. The session was sponsored as a part of Roosevelt Row's Small Business Incubator series along with Local First AZ.
Questions from the audience distinguished the Dreamer (Why do I need a food manager's license?) from the Done My Research/Ready To Go Realist (Got my truck, got my county certification and licenses -- how do I join the local coalition?).
Brad and Kat Moore (Short Leash Dogs), Georgie Parker (Sunshine and Spice) and Jason Fimbrez, (policy director of Phoenix Street Food Coalition) were there to lead the discussion and distinguish fantasy from reality for a start-up food truck owner.
Brad explained the history of the coalition of food truck operators in Phoenix, emphasizing the desire to work with county and city agencies to avoid legal hassles and prove the legitimacy of a new breed of up scale mobile food vendors.
more food truckin' after the jump
A few audience members asked the same question in different ways: Why not try and push the envelope and force the county and the city to change the rules?
Jason Fimbrez doesn't have a truck yet, but his plans are in the works. He joined the coalition earlier this year, and soon after took three days off from his job to visit city halls from Scottsdale to Gilbert, gathering information on all the different permit requirements, ordinances and rules regulating food trucks. Jason currently serves as the coalition's policy director, and can riff off each cities' rules and regs.
Jason explained that mobile food trucks were common in Maricopa County cities when there was a boom in construction and development. After the construction workers packed up, he was told the cities didn't want "roach coaches" on their streets anymore, leading to the restrictions that exist on the books today.
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Each city in the county has its own set of restrictions -- like Glendale's total ban on food trucks, Gilbert's farmers' markets only policy, Mesa's requirement for a $5000 insurance bond for each employee on top of the insurance the truck normally carries, and Scottsdale's open policy (but with a restricted number of available permits). Sorting out individual city requirements comes on top of meeting expected food service business requirements to operate, and answers why food trucks operate in limited areas for now.
The coalition members also shared their collective knowledge on start-up costs (averaging at $50,000), planning for an income until truck is profitable (8+++months), commissary arrangements (the dirty fry oil and water has to go somewhere), mobile food courts, and partnerships with special event venues. Audience members acknowledged the advantage of playing by county and city regulations (no fines, no forced shut down).
There was a positive response to the leadership the coalition is providing and the bridges they are building in the community. Attendees left the meeting with that dreamy entrepreneurial glint in their eye and a coalition application in hand.