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- 2014 - February - 27th -
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Dale Stoudt, owner of Super Food Truck, says operating a food truck the past 18 months has built his brand. Now he is looking to open brick and mortar business at Main and Forsyth streets.

Food truck owners: Let us compete

By Susan Cooper Eastman, Contributing Writer

As Reggie Brown opened a meeting about his proposal to regulate food trucks Downtown, the Jacksonville City Council member assured the audience of more than 150 that he isn’t anti-food truck.

But food truck owners said the proposal’s restrictions — including prohibiting the trucks from operating within 300 feet of a restaurant, requiring them to be within 100 feet of a restroom and banning them from within 75 feet of each other — would basically put them out of business.

Brown said the ordinance was only a draft and that he wanted people from the audience to volunteer for a committee that will help create food truck regulations.

When the meeting was over, Brown had the names of about 18 audience members he said he’d invite to the committee.

He asked council member Kimberly Daniels, who chairs the Public Health & Safety Committee, to create a subcommittee to create food truck legislation. He wants the group to meet in two weeks, and he expects it to craft a bill over the next three months.

Mayor Alvin Brown’s office said the city has received seven complaints about food trucks over the past three years.

More than 50 people spoke at the meeting, with the overwhelming majority speaking against tougher restrictions.

Andrew Ferenc shuttered his “On the Fly Sandwiches & Stuff” food truck Wednesday afternoon, leaving a culinary void at the corner of Jefferson and Adams streets, so he could attend the meeting. Ferenc is among the city’s first generation of food truck operators, opening his business in March 2011.

“As far as tweaking the ordinance and doing what you have to do to fine tune it, please make it possible for me to be able to make a living and support my family,” Ferenc said. “The way it’s written now, that’s not going to happen. So please think about that in whatever decision you make.”

Bill Adams, an attorney with the Downtown law firm of Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, said many of the firm’s more than 50 employees enjoy the variety of food offered by the food trucks. He questioned what prompted the legislation.

When council member Don Redman explained he’d heard from Downtown restaurants who said food trucks cut into their business, Adams said it wasn’t the city’s job to protect businesses from competition. Redman’s district includes Downtown.

“It’s not the city’s business to be in the area of leveling the playing field,” Adams said. “Just because somebody doesn’t like it that a competitor shows up on his front door, doesn’t mean that this chamber or this city government ought to rush in to lay on the regulation to stop that. In America, the thing to do is when a competitor shows up on your doorstep, you compete.”

One of the problems cited by representatives of two Downtown sandwich shops is city-sponsored food truck events to help spur activity in Hemming Plaza. On Thursdays and Fridays, the city sponsors “Food Trucks in the Plaza” from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Felicia Patel, who owns Quizno’s near the plaza, said the food trucks there cut into her business, while the trucks’ patrons sit at her tables and use her restroom. She said food trucks are saturating the market.

“We don’t have enough people Downtown to support businesses Downtown. The shops and restaurants that are there have trouble surviving,” she said.

Kelly Pickens, who owns the Pink Cupcake food truck and Jacksonville Landing business, spoke of food trucks adding to the economic vitality of Downtown. She urged the city to foster a free market.

“It gives people more diversity. It gives people a choice. We need this Downtown. We need the growth that food trucks are bringing,” she said.

Dick Jackson cautioned the city to move carefully, saying if regulation threatens the food truck industry, the city will face lawsuits and legal battles.

“Don’t waste time creating legislation that is going to be fought and, ultimately, embarrass the city more than it already has been,” he said.

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