Meals on wheels

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Food trucks are shown lined up on Hickory Street during 35 Denton on March 10. Many of the food truck owners were given temporary permits for the music festival because they didn’t meet the requirements for an annual permit.

Food truck owners say city ordinance is good but still needs some work

Food truck owners are happy about the new ordinance that allows them to obtain an annual permit but say it could use some work.

Many food trucks gathered last weekend for 35 Denton. But despite the new ordinance, many of the locally owned food trucks, such as Shiitake Swerve and Happy Camper’s Shaved Ice, Lemonades and Floats, were using temporary permits for the music festival because they don’t meet all the requirements for an annual permit yet.

Previously, the only option was to get a temporary permit, which is good for 14 days and limited to three permits per year.

The Denton City Council voted in November on the new ordinance, allowing for the annual permits.

In order to get the permit, a food truck business needs to have proof of a Texas sales and use tax permit, an itinerary of its route, permission to use a bathroom at the property where the truck is parked, an agreement with a commissary kitchen, a Type I hood installed and inspected, current vehicle license and registration, adequate potable and wastewater capacities, water tank security, a wastewater tank clean-out valve, a hand-washing sink and a ware-washing sink.

The ordinance prohibits home preparation or home storage of the food as well as parking the truck at home. It has food temperature requirements — for cold food, 41 degrees or below; for hot food, 135 degrees or above.

Marcus Holcomb, who co-owns Shiitake Swerve with Melanie Fisher, said, “The city of Denton has been really great to deal with. I think they are trying to be objective and realistic.”

Shiitake Swerve serves gourmet mushrooms in the form of tacos and sandwiches.

Holcomb said when he came up with his menu, he wanted a vegetarian option that his father, a “hard-core steak eater,” would like.

But he has a few concerns about the new ordinance, such as not being able to park his truck at his house, having to drive to Corinth, at the closest, to dispose of his wastewater and not having a place designated for food trucks.

The reason he was given for not being able to park his truck at his house is that the city doesn’t have jurisdiction at people’s homes and the city doesn’t want food truck owners cooking in their trucks at home, he said.

“It’s a weird area,” Holcomb said. “I completely understand where they are coming from.”

There also isn’t a local place to dump wastewater or wash the truck, he said.

“We’re going to have to drive this beast miles,” to dump the wastewater, Holcomb said.

He said an RV park and a truck wash would fix that issue.

Holcomb would like to see the city offer a way to dump wastewater at the waste management facility.

“That would really be inviting to the food truck culture in Denton,” he said.

Holcomb said another area of concern is that there are not specific areas where food trucks can park. If he wants to park somewhere, he has to make out a plan and the city will decide whether to approve it, he said.

“You’re either in a zone that is usable or you’re not,” Holcomb said.

Council member Kevin Roden, who has supported the ordinance, said this is a good time to hear concerns from food truck owners because the council agreed, when it passed the ordinance in November, that it would revisit the topic in six months.

He’d like to see Denton have a food truck park like other cities, including Fort Worth.

But food truck parks — areas where a group of trucks can park to offer a variety of food — are set up by private property owners. They invite the food trucks to set up on their land, Roden said.

If someone started a food park, they could create a place where food trucks can dump grease or wastewater, he said.

“At this point, they can go to any private property that wants to have them,” Roden said.

A business or apartment complex could invite food trucks to set up in a parking lot to offer employees, customers and residents something different.

“It’s just a matter of people making the right connections,” Roden said.

Tyler Griffis, who co-owns Happy Camper’s with Kaydi Moreland, said his main concern is the commissary kitchen requirement.

“There are not many businesses willing to open up their kitchen and be liable to what you do,” he said.

Griffis decided to get into the food truck business when his job at Bahama Buck’s ended and his grandfather gave him a 1959 Shasta trailer.

He had been the manager at the Denton Bahama Buck’s, which sells shaved ice, and decided he would turn that experience into a business of his own when it shut down.

“It’s the commercial kitchen thing that’s getting us,” he said. “That’s the burden right now.”

But Happy Camper’s, which offers shaved ice, hand-squeezed lemonade and ice cream floats, has had success selling at the Denton Community Market and at Newton Rayzor Elementary School’s Harvest Festival.

At 35 Denton, the food truck started selling hot chocolate because of the cold weather during the festival.

Griffis said the food truck had a lot of success during 35 Denton.

“It makes us hungry to get this going,” he said. “A lot of people are excited about it.”

Holcomb said the commissary kitchen is a place for the food truck owner to store food and receive food; it provides a home base.

“[You] need to have a home base where you can store food,” he said.

Holcomb said another area of concern he’s heard from other food truck owners is the Type I hood that’s required. He already has one installed, so it wasn’t an issue for him.

“It’s being perceived as a barrier of entry,” he said. “People are wondering if it’s been put in place to limit people from coming into the business.”

Holcomb, a University of North Texas student, is working on getting an annual license.

“We’re glad everything they’re asking for is doable,” Holcomb said.

In the meantime, he plans to sell at the university.

UNT began contracting with food trucks last year. It wanted to provide students different food options.

The university doesn’t have the same regulations as the city. UNT’s health inspector checks the trucks.

UNT also takes a commission from the daily sales of the food trucks, which is on average about 10 percent.

Roden said it’s going to take time to build the food truck culture in Denton.

At this point, food trucks from Dallas and Fort Worth see coming to Denton as a risk unless they’re coming for a specific event, like 35 Denton, where they have guaranteed business.

“There is a market if we package something for them,” Roden said, mentioning Friday Night Bites, a food truck festival that drew crowds in October. The city planned the event to celebrate the return and expansion of the A-train’s Friday night service.

“We’ve got so many events, festivals, things like that, we can help kick-start the culture by bringing them in like that,” Roden said.

RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is rmehlhaff@dentonrc.com .


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