This Monday (September 19th), at 7:30 p.m., the Chestertown Council will revisit the issue of food trucks—one which has simmered for over two years—to consider the adoption of a proposed Food Truck Pilot Program.
It appears that while ostensibly allowing food trucks on Park Row, the program will instead ensure that food trucks do not come.
In addition to requiring food truck operators to carry $1 million in insurance, the program would also charge vendors $200 a month. The fee in Berlin, MD by way of comparison is $5 per day. The fee in Cambridge is $125 for six months or $200 for the year. Centreville charges $35 per year. Even cosmopolitan Annapolis allows payment by the day—$20—or $340 for the year.
Why then, come to Chestertown?
But money aside, the most serious flaw in the proposal is this: it would require food truck operators to operate Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. beginning immediately. Failure to do so by any one food truck for any reason appears to allow the town to terminate the program. What if someone is ill? Do you want them preparing food? What if he or she has, like all of us may, a family emergency or some other exigent circumstance? What if some young entrepreneur is enrolled in school two days a week or can only afford childcare part of the week? The requirement also leaves out any mention of snow or winter. Odd.
The requirement demonstrates that despite several years of growing familiarity with food trucks—an entrepreneurial phenomenon that has spread across the whole country from Los Angeles to Maine—the drafters of the proposal fail to understand the food truck business.
Food trucks, are, well, trucks. They move. In Washington, D.C., for instance, my favorite trucks (selling Lebanese, Korean, and Indian food) are each only outside my office one day a week. They appear in different parts of the city precisely because there is no market for their food every day, day-in, day-out. Likewise, a successful food truck business here in a rural area would probably do better to be in Chestertown one day a week, Centreville another, and Easton another.
Wouldn’t such a framework also help placate the fears of brick-and-mortar restaurants? They would face competition fewer days of the week, if indeed, food trucks really compete with brick and mortar restaurants, a contention about which I hold some doubt. Allowing flexibility—food trucks are designed to be flexible after all—would, it seems, be a better compromise with the concerns of brick and mortar restaurants.
I predict the pilot program will collapse under its own weight. It will absolve the town of any blame, “Hey, we tried!” But it is really such a shame.
I won’t even address substantively the criminal background check requirement as if a youthful mistake should preclude someone even from employment in the food industry…