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Where are our food trucks?



In other cities, food truck operators engage the latest technology to inform loyal customers where they will be. By deploying iPhone apps, web cams, Facebook and Twitter, these street-side entrepreneurs have created a secret world: Pssst, I'm over here.

These tricked-up trucks range from a mobile outcropping of a well-established restaurant with a famed chef to smaller vehicles devoted to sweets. Products range from Thai chicken dumplings, Kobe burgers, schnitzel, pressed sandwiches, and fluffy Belgium waffles slathered with Nutella to the more mundane frozen yogurt, tacos and falafels.

But if you look around Charlotte, you'll find one quite large barbecue truck, Craig Mathis' Red's, which is grandfathered at Bank of America two days a week; Holy Matrimony Wings and Pizza, which tweets its locations from University to SouthEnd; and one upscale gourmet food truck, the Harvest Moon Grille, which features upscale dishes created from local foods including those from the owners' farm, The Grateful Growers. Recently, the owners opened a brick and mortar restaurant downtown and the truck has been sidelined until warmer weather.

Although Harvest Moon Grille is the exclusive upscale food truck in town, co-owner Cassie Parson hopes more will come, saying that many potential entrepreneurs have spoken to her about her operation. The cost of licensing fees, insurance and rent may be contributing factors to the lack of these trucks, though. "If you park outside a business, they will charge you," Parson says. "And insurance is quite expensive."

Outfitting a truck with a decent kitchen can cost well over $100K. Grills, deep fat fryers, ovens and refrigerators would be required to produce the food items people seem so passionate about in other locales.

Although eBay carries a number of used food trucks for less money, the newest trend in food trucks is transparency — literally. Since one apprehension about eating food from food trucks is cleanliness, trucks operators are choosing to become transparent with thick Plexiglas siding so customers can see the kitchen and the employees working — the mobile equivalent of the open kitchen.

Many factors can work together to deter a food truck, or mobile food facilities, operator. One of these is the city ordinances. Ordinances typically cover health and safety issues, licensing, and location. The latter is important since some cities have seen turf wars over the perceived "best" spots. Charlotte's city code does not limit the number of permits issued, but does regulate such issues as length of permit, operating hours (8 a.m. until 9 p.m.), location, and parking.

Along with these costs and code regulations are the state health requirements, which are complicated. The stipulations for mobile food vending are specific, and one in particular asks that the vendor thoroughly wash the vehicle daily in a health-inspected brick and mortar food establishment. Troy Purvis of the Mecklenburg County Health Department says some vendors rent that access from those establishments.

Center City Charlotte has a specific code regulating vendors doing business there through the "Tryon Street Mall Vendor" program. These rules are clearly defined, and 12 permits for a designated location are issued for a one-year period beginning in May. All of the applicants with the exception of Harvest Moon Grille have been carts, not trucks. Robert Krumbine of Center City Partners says that, besides Harvest Moon Grille, no other food trucks have even requested space, but, he says, the organization "would love to see more."

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