Exeter businesses turn out to support mobile food trucks in downtown

Exeter Planning Commission adjusts food truck ordinance to balance the needs of brick and mortar businesses and mobile food vendors

EXETER – The road to passing a reasonable food truck ordinance in Exeter got a little smoother when the planning commission reviewed their draft food truck ordinance.

What is normally a sparsely attended government meeting, played host to a full room of eager business owners on Oct. 20. Chief item on the Exeter Planning Commission’s agenda was a public hearing and review of their draft food truck ordinance. Owners of brick and mortar businesses have been resistant to the trend of restaurants on wheels, while others see it as a drive toward progress for the city’s downtown economy. 

Two businesses most likely to be affected by the ordinance, Rock Yard Tavern and BellCraft Brewing Company, spoke their mind during the public hearing. In particular over their contribution to the community.

Landon Wilcox, owner of Rockyard Tavern, said the ordinance seems to target businesses who rely on  food trucks in Exeter, which includes Rockyard and BellCraft. He said food trucks are a part of his business model, and when the commission members say they are trying to protect brick and mortar businesses, he falls into that classification as well. He also said his business brings in residents from other towns and often encourages people to visit other businesses in Exeter.

“We sell to everybody in town, we tell them to visit [other local businesses], we send them everywhere that we can, we’re very supportive of the community,” Wilcox said.

Brent Bell, owner of BellCraft Brewing Company said he and his wife moved to Exeter 10 years ago and started their business four years ago. Bell also said the radius that was initially proposed for the food truck ordinance, which would have had food trucks separated from businesses by a 500 foot radius, seemed targeted towards the breweries. He said the food trucks bring in a lot of people from other communities, but that doesn’t mean the brewery doesn’t face the same struggles as brick and mortar establishments.

“If you look over and you see a bunch of people [at BellCraft], that might be great, but a lot of people come to eat and leave,” Bell said. “They don’t live here. So we’re struggling just like everybody else.”

Jason Welch, a teacher at Exeter Union High School and husband to Exeter Coffee Co. owner Staci Welch, agreed that the food trucks attract a lot of people from outside communities to Exeter. This was something echoed by other Exeter community members as well. He said bringing in residents from other communities is beneficial for Exeter because it encourages people to visit other businesses.

“They spend money at BellCraft. They walk around, they see other things,” Welch said. “They’re like, ‘hey, I’m gonna go there. I’m gonna buy antiques, I’m going to do everything’…they look at everything. It’s an amazing environment.”

Jon McGill, husband to Hometown Emporium owner Kristy McGill, said he and his wife are supportive of private property owners doing what they need for their businesses. However, he is not supportive of the mess that can come with food trucks, like leftover trash and cooking oil, which he said he has seen dumped by vendors at other restaurant oil disposal stations without permission. He also said he is bothered that vendors made no collaborative efforts to work with existing restaurants.

“Hopefully, we do get the ordinance, and we do have vendors coming in,” McGill said. “And they pay their city license, [ensure] that they’re going to mitigate any trash in the alleyway and not use existing restaurants like oil dump stations.”

Margarita Munoz, owner of the food truck Mamma Rita’s Kitchen, said the proposal of the ordinance feels like it is trying to remove her business from the town. Munoz said she started her business in Tulare with her husband, Joey Munoz, and only visits Exeter twice a week for four hours a day. Munoz said her and her husband’s business brings in customers from places like Hanford, Visalia, Tulare and Woodlake. Additionally, she said they always try to give back to the city of Exeter through donations.

“I feel like [the ordinance is] just trying to get rid of us,” Munoz said. “I don’t see how we’re taking business when me, personally, I’m only here eight hours a week. And in those eight hours, we do clean up our space.”

On the opposing side, one of the owners for Exeter’s Vallarta Juanita Espinoza, said food trucks have affected her business. She said the trucks park behind her business and interfere with the restaurant’s operations.

“We are a small community, we help each other,” Espinoza said. “But the food trucks have affected our business a great deal.”

As it stands now, all food trucks in Exeter are expected to operate with a mobile food vendor permit, county health department permit and business license. The ordinance would have vendors display the health permits and business licenses within customer view as they operate. Additionally, if food truck vendors would like to operate on public property, they might need to receive a special event permit from the city.

According to the commission’s vice chair, Joe Stewart, the city began to draft an ordinance for mobile food truck vendors after a vendor set up shop behind BellCraft Brew Co. without permission and did not leave until asked to by the brewery’s staff.

“We are here to prevent things like that, to have licensed, permitted food vendors operate properly in the city without being hindrance as much as possible,” Stewart said. “But also, [we are] protecting the businesses that invite these food trucks in.”

What stood out most in the draft ordinance was the egregious time limit that food trucks would have been able to operate in downtown, restricting them to 8:01 p.m. to 3:59 a.m. Exeter city planner Tristan Suire said before the meeting that the time was only a placeholder, and was more than likely to change. Fortunately it was adjusted to a much more reasonable 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. time table.

In addition to establishing hours of operation and permit requirements, the ordinance would also exempt personal vehicles and catering trucks so existing delivery services can continue to operate without issue. It also exempts anything operating under a special event permit, so farmers market vendors and city events that feature food trucks can still function.

The ordinance is also being written to prevent mobile food truck vendors from setting up shop in public spaces without permission from the city. When it comes to privately owned businesses who hire food trucks to enhance their business operations, like BellCraft and Rockyard, the commission agreed they should be allowed to continue those operations without issue.

The fee for the mobile food vendor permit, which would cover the costs of reviewing applications and is still undecided but will be charged once a year unless there is a serious complaint or cause for concern against the vendor.

The initial plan of including locational requirements in the ordinance was removed since the commission would prefer mobile food vendors to get a special event permit to utilize public space. The previous draft of the ordinance would have prevented mobile food vendors from operating if they were within a radius of 500 feet from any Exeter restaurants open for business.

A revised version of the ordinance will be brought back for another public hearing at the next planning commission meeting on Nov. 17. According to Suire, if he can discuss the revised version with the city attorney sometime soon, staff may recommend that the planning commission adopt a resolution to present to Exeter City Council by next meeting. Regardless, Suire said a vote to adopt the ordinance, once it’s complete, won’t happen until January or early February, and the ordinance would not take effect until 31 days after council votes to accept it.

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