Commission takes step toward finalizing food truck regulations

Monday, September 12, 2011 at 7:54pm
By Steven Hale

The Metro Traffic and Parking Commission on Monday afternoon reopened discussions on the regulating of food trucks in Nashville — focusing on downtown yet arriving at no conclusions for a second consecutive meeting.

A full house in attendance at the M.H. Howard Conference Room watched as the commission took public feedback regarding the trucks — which have garnered attention lately from bricks-and-mortar restaurateurs. While no regulations were finalized, the meeting served as the first opportunity for public comment on the first draft of regulations, posted Aug. 23 on the commission’s website.

Early during the public comment segment, a Tennessee Hospitality Association representative announced that the association’s board of directors had voted to allow food trucks to join its ranks and that the association would continue to be involved as the commission works out the details of regulation.

With the draft of possible regulations providing a general framework, the discussion focused primarily on the prospect of a mobile food presence on Nashville’s busiest downtown streets. A presentation of the regulations as proposed in the draft featured pictures of an evening’s crowded Broadway sidewalk, as one commissioner expressed the commission’s hesitation about adding to the congestion.  

Brick-and-mortar voices at the meeting were much more certain on that point. Buddy Messer, who owns three downtown locations, raised concerns about safety as well as fairness, citing the high cost of doing business downtown. One man added that with space for parking and loading already scarce, allowing mobile vendors in the heart of downtown would be “insane.” 

Tom White, an attorney representing The Arcade, said it would be hazardous to allow mobile vendors in that area and echoed concerns about fairness. He said the commission should not be “anti-competition,” but should be sensitive to those with a “fixed overhead.”

On the other side of the table, Nashville Food Truck Association president and Riffs Fine Street Food owner B.J. Lofback said his side was very pleased with the draft regulations as a first step and that the association would be submitting some recommended changes. Lofback repeated previous statements, expressing the desire of mobile food vendors to get along with their brick-and-mortar cousins.

"We don’t want to block anybody’s business,” he said. “We don’t want to be a safety hazard.”

In an interview with The City Paper in late August, Lofback said he understands why many don’t want Nashville’s tourism center crowded with food trucks, but that his association’s members would like to operated on the fringe of the city’s nightlife core.

Commissioner Brenda Sanderson, the owner of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, recused herself from discussing or voting on the issue at the start of Monday’s meeting. Since the commission’s last meeting on Aug. 8, some have been calling for Sanderson to do so.  

5 Comments on this post:

By: bunnymaytrix on 9/13/11 at 8:42

Well, it is just insane for these brick and mortar owners to cry "NO fair"! They had a choice to open that type of business or operate a food truck- this IS still America, right? There is a demand, deal with it. What if the all mall owners said " No restaurants or clothing stores within 3 miles of the mall because they will take business from the mall vendors? Come on, the City needs to provide better parking, free parking and the crowding won't be such an issue! when I am walking downtown, i do not always have time or want to go into a crowded, noisy sit down place. I would love to grab something interesting and different and portable from the food truck and eat as I walk along the river's edge... Play nice, now boys and girls...don't be greedy...there is room for everybody in this world!

By: Charlie Sommers. on 9/13/11 at 11:29

I find it amusing that some people in a town as small as Nashville are shouting about how our streets are too crowded to allow food trucks. To name a few larger cities who have dealt successfully with the issue there are New York, San Francisco, Chicago, et al.

Some restaurant owners just don't want any competition, just like the liquor store owners don't want me to be able to buy a bottle of wine from my grocer while I'm in there getting a steak for my dinner.

Don't keep caving in to special interest groups Nashville. I would love to buy an occasional Korean style taco off a truck.

By: imdyinhere on 9/14/11 at 5:38

You take a neighborhood like 12 South or 5-Points, where two-three community leaders have made long-term investments - and risks - to contribute to healthy, thriving neighborhoods where there was nothing but crack dealers 15 years ago.

Food trucks are a great addition to the city landscape, no one questions that. But neither does any thinklng person imagine that food trucks are better for a community's long-term stability than stationary restaurants.

When you're ready to make a real investment and take real risks that Kickstarter.com doesn't cover, get back to us. You're an insane psychopath to suggest restaurant owners are the ones who are whining babies on this issue.

By: heidelhook on 9/14/11 at 9:26

Truly both sides have viable arguments. However, running off business should not be considered a good argument in my opinion. Look at the number of restaurants loaded in a 3 block stretch in some areas of town...upwards of 30 restaurants in 3 blocks. Healthy competition drives business. That being said, how logical is it to think that a sit-down, brick-and-mortar faces serious "competition" from a food truck that provides no seating, no indoor atmosphere, conditioning, etc. to their patrons? Those who want to go sit down in a restaurant, and who are heading to the restaurant as their destination will not be disuaded. Those who are there for the food truck may also decide to frequent other businesses and even restaurants in the area, whether on that trip or subsequent visits. The food truck operators also have overhead, expenses, and regulations that they must follow. They also have families they are trying to provide for. In the end, that is really what is important. Having a fair opportunity to provide for each and every family involved.

By: macjedi on 9/14/11 at 11:23

Traffic and Parking. Making food decisions. PERFECT. Cuz they do SO WELL with traffic and/or parking...

GAWD, NASHVILLE!!! When will we pull our heads out of our asses and stop being LAST to every intellectual party???

Now... not sure they need to be congesting downtown, but there CERTAINLY could just be some "no standing" zones enforced to fix that. If the Arcade (or pretty much and non-2nd-and-Broadway eateries) would like to complain about these vendors, then MAYBE THEY CAN TRY STAYING OPEN AFTER 5PM INSTEAD OF LEAVING A DESOLATE WASTELAND LACKING FOOD. I say bring on the food trucks to the Church, Commerce, Arcade, TPAC, and other areas dominated by the idiots running the static eateries who have decided they want nothing to do with the post-sunset dollar.

But again.... I am just shamed to see this only just now being entertained by America's most trend-ignorant city (Nashville) so late in the game.