Today I had a lively discussion with a first-time food-truck entrepreneur.
Eyes brimming with enthusiasm, he told me he was looking for his next big thing, and that he recently decided to take advantage of the budding–and booming–street-food movement in Atlanta. He just bought a food truck. And he already had plans to expand!
“Entrepreneurship,” I thought, “is such a life-affirming phenomenon.”
Then he got to the bureaucracy.
The light in his eyes dwindled.
“I can’t believe I need a lawyer just to get some permits,” the now deflated food truck owner said. “It’s so confusing and disjointed–zoning, regulations, never-ending permits. I’ve talked with other food truck operators, and they’re experiencing the same thing.”
Food trucks, you see, are a new thing here in Atlanta. And regulators are in a tizzy about how to regulate them. Despite the city last year relaxing several outdated, complex restrictions affecting the industry, people wanting to become food truck entrepreneurs still have numerous bureaucracies to navigate.
But it’s not just new owners.
Recently, the Atlanta Police Department’s License and Permits unit arrived at a popular food truck park and “began shutting down trucks left and right,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s restaurant critic wrote May 9. “It remains temporarily closed until enough of the vendors can clear up the permit issues with the department.”
So what did these po’ boy provocateurs–these BBQ bad boys–do to inspire Atlanta’s Elliot Ness mobile-food-truck-hit-squad to layeth the smacketh down?
Was it squalid sanitary conditions?
Were the perps exploiting illegal immigrants, forcing them to take mescaline so they’d perform gay-marriage ceremonies on escaped al Qaeda terrorists?
“To be perfectly clear,” the AJC reporter writes, “none of the permits in question have anything to do with food-safety violations. All of the vendors affected had business licenses and had passed health inspections.”
What he meant to say:
“There were no illegal Mexicans high on mescaline performing gay-marriage ceremonies for escaped al Qaeda terrorists.”
The real reason for the smack-down:
The city’s brand-new food-truck code, which really was an improvement over the old one, still forces food-truck operators to re-apply for new permits and re-pay hundreds of dollars in fees every time they operate from any location that isn’t one of the two on file with the State Health Department.
Did you just skim the last sentence over? I’ll simplify it if you did:
Mobile food truck operators–that’s MOBILE food truck operators–have to pay for a new freakin’ permit every freakin’ time they move their MOBILE food truck to a place (there’s only two!) that isn’t approved by the freakin’ state government.
Sadly, Atlanta isn’t alone.
- Boston mandates the sale of healthier menu items. Surprised? Did you read my last post?
- A proposal in Washington to mandate shorter operating hours than restaurants at night sparked a petition drive in protest, according to Bloomberg news.
- And California–you knew this was coming–nearly was successful in an attempt to ban food trucks from operating anywhere near schools. We don’t want the kiddies buying kimchi fried-rice burritos, now, California, especially when they can get USDA-certified chicken nuggets at public school.
Anyway, back to the entrepreneur.
He recently witnessed a few food truck operators closing their windows when they saw several cops show up. Turns out, the law enforcement officers were just interested in some food! This nonsense shows the climate of paranoia Atlanta has created over such a simple thing as making delicious food for hungry people.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I feel like I’m starting an underground Speakeasy. We’re not the mob. We’re just trying to sell food.”