It’s a commonly held belief among foodies that the heavy hand of Athens-Clarke County government is what’s holding back the nascent local food-truck scene. But regulations would be easier to navigate if the private sector stepped up to the plate—and that may present an opportunity for an entrepreneur.
State health regulations require food trucks to have a “base of operations,” with a certified prep kitchen and a dump station for food waste on the same site, according to Kelli Hinson of the county health department office. This means that Athens food-truck owners have each been hiring plumbers to build costly food-waste dump stations near their prep kitchens. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.
The rules are “very straightforward and clear,” according to ACC Assistant Manager Blaine Williams, and they’re not enforced any differently in Atlanta, which has lots of food trucks, than here, where there are only a few. Here’s the difference: In Atlanta, two organizations—one a cooperative, the other a private company—have popped up to provide shared, centralized prep kitchens and dump stations so that food-truck proprietors don’t have to build their own. “We don’t have some benevolent investor or co-op out there,” ACC Commissioner Melissa Link said at a recent committee meeting.
It’s not the role of government to start such a facility, any more than the government should be building brick-and-mortar restaurants. But maybe the market exists for someone—potentially an existing caterer or food truck with extra space—to do it. “The model we’ve been talking about is somebody with deep, private pockets,” Commissioner Andy Herod said.
Meanwhile, commissioners are discussing paving the way for more food trucks, so that the private sector might be encouraged to step in. Currently, they’re not allowed to park on public property, because they’re too big to fit in one space (and brick-and-mortar restaurant owners don’t want competition camped out front). Link suggested allowing food trucks to park in front of City Hall at least a couple days a week, which she said could attract business lunchers, the happy-hour crowd and late-night revelers to a part of downtown where people don’t normally go, while steering clear of wheel-less competitors. The Government Operations Committee is also considering allowing food trucks in parks (except when youth sports groups are raising money with concession sales) and the Oconee Street park-and-ride lot, which is not used much but “will become more attractive,” Williams said, when the greenway is extended there.
Williams said he’ll bring formal recommendations to the committee later this month.
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