Food truck owner says Ogden rules too tight

Saturday , August 09, 2014 - 11:36 AM

OGDEN — Bringing new business to the core of Ogden’s downtown is typically undisputed as a positive thing.

But a new operation looking to set up shop there now has other area business owners concerned and city officials proceeding with caution. Meanwhile, the owner of this potential downtown business says the guidelines set aside for her to be able to operate are too restrictive.

The city council will vote this week on an ordinance that would allow mobile food trucks to operate in commercial areas throughout the city, and most notably, the Central Business District, which is considered the area between 20th and 27th streets between Adams Avenue and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. 

Currently, the city allows mobile food trucks only in manufacturing zones, and the trucks are and will remain illegal in residential areas. 

The city defines a mobile food truck as a business that serves only food and nonalcoholic beverages, from an enclosed self-contained motorized vehicle. The definition doesn’t include sidewalk vending carts, mobile food trailers or mobile ice cream vendors.

The consideration to change the current zoning law and allow food trucks downtown came from Roy resident Carol Hasratian, who owns the Rocking Gourmet Grilled Cheese food truck. She currently serves some of Ogden’s industrial areas, but would like to expand her operation into downtown.

“It’s been a dream of mine to have a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich shop,” Hasratian said. “And I think the food truck is something that people in Ogden would like to see. But I’ll tell you what, it’s been an uphill battle trying to get this done.”

The city council will vote on the issue at the next council meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. But even if the ordinance passes, Hasratian says, the way it’s written now will severely limit her.

If Hasratian is allowed to serve her grilled cheese in the downtown, she and other food carts will be subject to a host of standards, which among other things include the following: Food trucks must not be parked within 200 feet of an existing restaurant, food cart or church; food trucks are not allowed in The Junction or Historic 25th Street District; food trucks can only operate between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.; and access is required to a permanent bathroom facility provided when a food cart is parked on private property.

Food carts in commercial zones would also be capped at five, although the city could revisit that and allow for more food carts later.

“If it’s passed the way it’s written right now, with all these stipulations, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to even do this,” Hasratian said. “If I would have known what I know now, I probably just would have opened a little sandwich shop. I think there needs to be an ordinance established, but this one is just too much.”

Hasratian says her main problems are with the 200-foot restriction and closing up shop at 6 p.m.

“I completely agree that I shouldn’t be able to pull up right in front of an existing restaurant,” she said. “But the 200-foot thing blocks me out of so many areas, it will make it almost impossible for me.”

When Hasratian petitioned the city to make the change, planning department staffers began to contact local restaurants about the idea. The staff also contacted officials from Flagstaff, Arizona, and Fort Collins, Colorado —  two cities similar in size to Ogden that allow mobile food trucks in commercial zones.

Among the restaurant owners polled, those who were outright opposed to the idea and those who offered lukewarm support cited similar concerns, chief among them how  the food trucks would impact business at stationary restaurants.

Several owners of Ogden restaurants attended a June planning commission meeting and voiced concern about allowing food trucks downtown. 

Steve Ballard of the Sonora Grill; Kym Buttschardt, owner of Roosters Brewing Co.; Alex Montanez, owner of Rovali’s Ristorante Italiano; and Nick VanArsdell, co-owner of The Lucky Slice Pizza, all spoke out at the meeting.

Montanez spoke to the Standard-Examiner this week and said allowing food trucks in downtown would siphon business from permanent brick and mortar restaurants.

“I don’t know if I fully support it, even with the protections that are in place,” he said. “How many times do you see restaurants just go out of business and disappear?”

Montanez said the small, mobile taco stands set up near 25th Street have already affected business at brick and mortar restaurants.

“Food trucks would compound it,” he said. “All of these (mobile food businesses) start siphoning off from us. I think the restaurants that bring permanence to the city, the ones that have made major investments in this city, those should be protected and be the highest priority. If everybody jumps on the food truck wagon, in a way, I think we’d be moving backwards.”

Montanez said he thinks food trucks could work in the downtown, but they should be anchored by a brick and mortar business.

Hasratian says she doesn’t think she would be much competition for the traditional restaurants.

“I think my competition would be more of the fast-food chains,” she said. “People who want to go in to a sit-down restaurant are going to go there anyway, even if they see my truck.”

Ogden City Council Chairman Richard Hyer said the council has discussed the issue, and seems to favor allowing the food trucks, but doing it cautiously, with the stipulations that have been set forth.

“Me personally, I think it’s worth giving it a try because anything that draws people (downtown) is a good thing,” he said. “But it has to be done right.”

Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.

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