Dallas Appears Closer to Loosening Restrictions on Food Trucks

Categories: Chewing the Fat

Ganarinos.jpg
Gennarino's Food Truck: Italian guys serving grandma's recipes (anywhere but Dallas).
The Sigel's Winter Food Truck Festival grew out of its pants before it even got them on. The store's first festival was on a brilliant August day and drew over 2,000 people, all of whom risked melting into the pavement just for a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich. Given the anticipated crowd size for the upcoming November 12 event, the city told Sigel's they had to up its game to four times the number of port-o-potties, twice as many Dallas police officers and an ambulance on site. To which Sigel's said, "Umm, nevermind."

It's not the only way Dallas has clamped down on food trucks -- although the city appears ready to loosen some of its restrictions.

The City of Dallas hasn't necessarily thrown down the welcome mat for the growing food truck industry. Permitting requirements here are more complicated than in surrounding cities, and as a result many trucks stay out of Dallas. One restrictive measure is the requirement that trucks be originally manufactured to be a food truck. The city doesn't allow for professional kitchen installations in, say, an old UPS truck. Which is the case for Gennarino's, which serves Neapolitan street food.

Councilwoman Angela Hunt has started to take notice. Last month the Quality of Life Committee, which Hunt chairs, looked at two ways to ease the restrictive city codes. One was to allow "retrofitted hot trucks," which would remove the commercially manufactured provision but still require trucks to be held to the same safety standards.

The other change would allow food trucks to carry raw seafood and poultry. As it stands, due to cross-contamination fears, trucks have to freeze all seafood and poultry then deep fry when ordered.

The two provisions made it out of committee back on October 24th and were on the agenda for the Monday morning City Council meeting. But Hunt pulled the measures off the agenda prior to the meeting.

"Some food truck vendors felt the draft ordinance needed to provide greater latitude for the type of trucks used (as other cities do)," explained Hunt in an email. "As long as we're meeting the same health and safety standards, there's no reason to be locked in to a specific truck type.

"Engaging with the operators and potential vendors is an important part of this process, and we don't want to pass an ordinance that doesn't work. So we're going to have a meeting with some of these vendors, revise the ordinance, and get this to the council as soon as possible, hopefully before the end of the year."

Either way, it wouldn't help the Sigel's food truck festival, but that's a completely separate committee meeting. For now let's hope it gets sorted sooner than later should Dallas miss out on more of the great food our neighbor cities are privy to.


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6 comments
Justin Julian
Justin Julian

This continues what seems to be an extreme problem in Dallas city politics that no voters seem interested in fixing: permits and zoning.  The city council is obsessed in having micro-management control over EVERYTHING a business does in this city, and it's just stupid, especially in this economy where ANY tax-generating business should be welcome to do their thing.  Our new store down in Deep Ellum can't have any signage on our awning, for example.  There's no logical reason for this.  It's just some random restriction dreamed up by a council member at one point.  

With food trucks, they can't just say 'look, let's get with the health department and figure out what we need to be safe, guarantee inspections, and then throw open the doors'.  THAT makes sense.  Let these guys make money, pay sales tax and licenses, and help pay for things Dallas can't afford.  It's not rocket science.

Fun
Fun

I have been wanting to get into the food truck business for awhile. I've called many trucks in the area but one particular truck's story really bothered me. After my conversation with this particular food truck owner, who recently tried to get permitted in Dallas, I was left feeling like something seriously dirty was going on between the Dallas Health Department and a company called United Caterers.  The more I sniffed around...the dirtier it got. It seems Dallas is okay with almost any food truck...as long as it has some connection to this commissary.

Besides that...the whole Dallas permit process is strange. There are two retro-fitted trucks in Dallas already. Yet other retro-fits can't get in? I called the health department and asked about it and the head of the department said..."yeah...they lied to get the permit". Huh...and you still let them work on the streets but you won't allow any other truck that meets all the criteria work? How does that make sense?

I would like to see some real reporting on the issue. Dig into why Dallas seems so favorable to the one company that sells those Wyss and AA trucks. Is it just me or is the city helping to create a monopoly that drives prices astronomically high for small business owners? Yeah the Siegels thing stinks. Was looking forward to trying all the great eats, but there is more to this than that. Why isn't anyone looking into this? Fee discrepancy, commissary regulations, route requirements...all of it is preventing food trucks from working Dallas...not just the retro-fit issue.

I'll be hitting the mid-cities instead...all this back room stuff isn't for me. Every city I've talked to loves the food truck craze, keeps costs low and inspects trucks regularly. When you call a city and are greeted with "We can't help you. Go get permitted in another city" I can't see any reason not to take them up on their offer.

Nunya
Nunya

Speaking of Gennarino's... The guys are hot. The food is not.

Brandon Castillo
Brandon Castillo

From my conversations with food truck owners, I too have sniffed out something fishy in someone trying to monopolize the hot food truck industry in Dallas.  Knowing the City, however, the reason they would favor this particular commissary owner and truck leaser is that it makes their job easier, regardless if they're empowering an asshole.  The MO of the City is to make sure that liability and real decision making can be settled by forms and paperwork or by someone with "a higher pay grade".

The big fear of property owners is that food trucks will take away from existing restaurant businesses, which will in turn force the restaurant to shut down, leaving no one to pay rent.  This is the case specifically in Downtown Dallas.  Whether or not this notion is true is a topic that's being debated in many cities around the country as we speak.Otherwise the antiquated food truck policies in place in the City of Dallas were never designed for mobile gourmet food trucks, rather roach coaches that visit construction sites for 15 minutes at a time.  This will change, given time, despite the short sighted people trying to keep policy as it is.

As far as special event permitting goes, which is what the Sigels people applied for, a licensed event functions as a cure all band-aid for zoning restrictions.  In other words, food trucks can have a ball if an event has a Special Event Permit.  Unfortunately, Sigels was a little too truthful on their application, and the requirements for a 2000-person outdoor concert were imposed on them.  

Fun
Fun

I agree with the first part but definitely not the second. The food is traditional and pure Italian...I love it and think these boys are amazing!

Fun
Fun

I don't know if it is easier for the city. From my conversation with the head of the health department, the current regulations are actually putting them in a very bad situation. Truck owners, builders, media and many others are wondering what in the world is going on and all of that is falling on a handful of city employees.

To be truly unbiased, Dallas needs to follow the lead of other cities and allow commissary use in other cities as long as the commissary meets Dallas's requirements. Wouldn't it be less trouble to just look at the certificate, see what the commissary offers and then move along? FYI, if you get a list of approved commissaries from Dallas...there is only one currently in operation. I just find it too much of a coincidence to think that something deeper than ease of process is going on.

As for the rest of what you have written, I can't agree with you.  Let's hope someone is listening and fixes the commissary issue, fixes the retro-fit denial clause and gets some of these great food trucks on the road.

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