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Food truck proponents say rule changes could make Dallas a more friendly city for street cuisine

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Food vendors want Dallas to loosen up its rules on food trucks, carts and trailers. Council members take up the issue on Wednesday.

Karl Shewry has been making savory and sweet crepes at pop-up events in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for more than three years. He’d like to expand his catering business and add a food trailer or cart. But “rigid regulations” in Dallas, he said, makes that difficult.

"If you want to do a pop-up as a caterer and you get a temporary event permit, you can set down a tent, a table, a refrigerator and a flat top. And that's OK,” the owner of Great Galettes Crepes & Catering said. “But [in Dallas] you can't get permitted to move your cart around the city block.”

Shewry and other local food vendors hope the Dallas City Council will change regulations that would make it easier to operate food trailers and carts, which typically are cheaper to purchase and operate than a food truck. Vendors also would like to see less-restrictive rules for food trucks. City leaders are expected to take up these issues at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Proposed ordinance changes would:

  • Revise the term “mobile food establishment” to include both food trucks and food trailers. 
  • Allow food trucks and trailers to cook raw chicken and fish on site.  
  • Require weekly rather than daily “commissary visits.” Vendors must pay a fee during these visits, when their food trucks get maintenance and cleanliness checks.  

Shewry said the daily commissary visits get pricy.

"It's prohibitively costly. It's $30 to 40 an hour,” he said. “And to run a successful business, you're going to need 50 to 100 hours of prep a month. And you're looking at $1,500 to $3,000 now, if not more.”

A commissary is a commercial kitchen where food trucks can prepare, cook and store their food. Food truck operators also can clean out their wastewater. Many commissaries also provide food trucks and other mobile vendors with overnight parking and equipment storage.

Shewry agrees that commissary visits are necessary. But he said they are time-consuming, expensive and faraway.

Krista Nightengale, the executive director of the nonprofit Better Block in Dallas, said most of the commissaries are in North Dallas.

“If you own a food truck in South Dallas, you have to go north every single day to return your truck and then go pick it up the next day,” she said.

Cities like Austin, Nightengale said, have commissary services that come directly to the trucks.

Dallas currently makes a distinction between motorized food trucks and trailers or carts. For example, food trucks pay an annual permit fee of $330 to operate — while food trailers may have to pay more than $250 fee per day at events they work.

Nightengale said the current rules create a burden for people who want to buy food trailers and use them to start their own businesses.

“Trailers are a lower cost of entry,” Nightengale said. "People can go out and get a trailer and test out their concept before spending two or three times that on a truck or a lot more than that on a brick and mortar.”

She said the current rules create roadblocks and limitations especially for people of color. Historically, limited financial resources and obstacles to getting loans have made it harder for many minorities interested in starting their own businesses.

Having more food trucks, trailers and carts in Dallas also could mean that residents of underserved neighborhoods — especially in so-called “food deserts” — have more options.

Better Block recently tested a temporary food park in South Dallas for food trailers, food trucks, and carts. The organization wanted “to further the conversation around permitting more affordable, rapidly deployable food vending options in the City of Dallas,” according to their website.

Some council members are in support of changes to the ordinance.

"This started with is basic equity issue,” Council Member Chad West said. “You've got food trucks that are very expensive to operate, barrier to entry for these, the smaller guys, because they haven't had the same benefits of this ordinance that the food trucks have had.”

Shewry said Austin has a vibrant mobile food scene because there are less hoops to jump through. But he believes the Dallas food scene could be a place with food truck yards and food trailer parks.

“This is an issue about being able to get this process together quickly with the least amount of sort of bureaucracy,” he said. “I just don't I don't see how giving better, more access to people with new interesting food ideas is a bad thing.”

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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