City extends food truck rules into heart of downtown Visalia

Mobile food vending ordinance extended from Santa Fe to Stevenson, bringing rules and regs to core downtown area

VISALIA – The city of Visalia Planning Commission voted unanimously Dec. 14 to extend rules and regulations for mobile food vending into the heart of downtown. Food trucks will now be allowed to operate from Santa Fe Street to Stevenson Street east to west, and Center Avenue and Mineral King Avenue north to south.

If it seems like an odd time to extend mobile food vending into an area where restaurants are already struggling for a year from the coronavirus pandemic, newly minted mayor Steve Nelsen says not to worry, that the intent is to provide rules and regulations for an even playing field downtown.

“Some of these food trucks are very expensive [to operate],” Nelsen said, “but in reality there’s a difference in cost factors on brick-and-mortar and what they pay versus food trucks.”

Nelsen used an anecdote to explain the reasoning for the mobile food vending rules and regulations being extended to downtown: under the rules and regs handed down by the state, a food vendor, as long as he has a business license is allowed to set up on a downtown sidewalk, as long as it does not impede the flow of traffic or create a safety hazard. Set up right in front of a restaurant that has to sell their burrito for $8 due to overhead costs, the food truck or cart can sell their burrito for $5.

Mobile food vendors operating in the overlay district will be required to enroll in the yearly mobile food vending program registration, as well as comply with various performance standards. Nelsen says the updated mobile food vending ordinance and overlay district map help protect brick-and-mortar restaurants, while still allowing a footing for food trucks—500 feet away from the front door of any downtown restaurant.

Exemptions to the mobile food vending program include food trucks associated with a business. For example, at Barrelhouse Brewing, mobile food vendors are situated in the on-site open space behind the building, and would be subject to the rules that apply to Barrelhouse Brewing.

Miguel Reyes, CEO of Quesadilla Gorilla, the fast-growing single-dish restaurant—No. 3 on Forbes’ 2019 list of fastest Growing Inner City Businesses in the Country—has the perspective of owning both a brick-and-mortar establishment and a pop-up food truck. He said there are trade-offs to each style of serving food.

“The benefit to a pop-up is, you can prep so much, prepare so much to sell, and once you sell it, you sell out—which is good and bad,” Reyes said. “Maybe you should have prepped more for that big event that you sold out early, or on the other hand, you over prepped, and you have all this waste that you have to throw away that you can’t use, so you lose income.”

Reyes said at a brick-and-mortar it’s easy to use products you don’t sell the next day, but it comes at the cost of keeping the doors open every single day, including labor costs and staffing for unexpected lunch or dinner rushes.

“I wouldn’t say one is better over the other,” Reyes said. “I would definitely say a pop-up is harder than a brick-and-mortar, just because there’s a lot of variables.”

Reyes’ flagship brick-and-mortar Quesadilla Gorilla is nestled next to the Fox Theatre in downtown Visalia, within the city’s newly extended mobile food vending district. He and his wife were actually on the committee to help the City bring food trucks to downtown. Reyes said from a brick-and-mortar standpoint, they welcome more food options downtown.

“The more the merrier, you know, you can’t have a quesadilla every day—even though I still do,” Reyes said with a laugh. “It’s just more reason to bring more people downtown. At the end of the day, you’re supporting local businesses.”

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