Metro to regulate food trucks, outlining where they can operate

Thursday, March 29, 2012 at 8:58pm

After mounting friction between brick-and-mortar restaurants and Nashville’s growing number of food trucks, Metro will soon implement a host of regulations to define exactly where mobile kitchens can operate.

For months, Metro Public Works officials, playing the role of intermediary, have met with food truck vendors and traditional restaurant owners, discussions that have spurred Metro’s creation of a new “food vendor pilot program” to begin next week.

Under the plan, Metro will designate nine “food truck zones” where vendors are authorized to operate their mobile kitchens downtown. Food trucks will still be allowed on streets in neighborhoods outside downtown, but they would need to follow setbacks that set distance parameters from other restaurants and driveways.

Metro will require food vendors to obtain permits from the city to operate. A new food-vendor fee system is also in the works. Food vehicles operating on private properties will have to display written permission from the pertinent property owners.

Metro Public Works Director Billy Lynch revealed the new plans at the mayor’s budget hearings Thursday as Mayor Karl Dean prepares to set spending priorities for the next fiscal year.

In some instances, food trucks have clashed with brick-and-mortar restaurants, whose owners have grumbled about a number of issues –– from the foot traffic outside food trucks, to the smaller overhead mobile kitchens have to operate.

“We want to be a city that celebrates free enterprise, that celebrates all sorts of different food,” Mayor Karl Dean said. “Nashville is an exciting, compelling city, and food trucks are part of it.

“We’re making sure that we’re treating the people who operate the food trucks fairly and treating restaurants fairly,” Dean said.

Lynch said while the regulations will require some adjustments both sides — restaurants and food truck operators — are on board with the program.

“We’ve got to get the pilot off the ground,” Lynch said. “Once it gets off the ground, we’ll evaluate it and make changes if necessary.

Some of the downtown food zones include: South Broadway, near the Court of Flags; Second Avenue North, between James Robertson Parkway and Gay Street; and Deaderick Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

Lynch said vendors operating on streets within the zones would have to feed parking meters and pay a one-time $55 lane-closure fee. He also discussed proposing a first-ever food-truck fee that vendors would have to pay to obtain a permit. Dollars would go to the public works department.

The food truck fee — its dollar figure still undetermined — is contingent on future legislation, which the public works department plans to put forth at an undetermined time. Lynch said it would be either an annual or twice-a-year fee. The fee would be subject to Metro Council approval.

“I would like to see a portion of the fee go back into our budget to pay for the employees who will have to monitor the [food truck] activities to make sure everything’s going smoothly,” Lynch said.

Public works officials will inspect permitted food trucks periodically. Operations are not authorized in public right-of-ways between 3:30 and 6:00 a.m.

Other details will be listed on the public works website next week.

B.J. Lofback, owner of Riffs Fine Street Food and head of the Nashville Food Truck Association, described Metro as “amazing in handling this [issue] in the most fair and sensible way.” He said food truck vendors understand they use property that belongs to the city and can thus be amenable to the regulations.

“Nashville will soon be an example to the nation on how to handle street [vendors],” Lofback said. “We’re just excited that we’re here.”

The City Paper was unable to reach Greg Adkins, CEO of the Tennessee Hospitality Association, for comment.

The nine downtown food vendor zones are: 

  • Second Avenue North (east side) from James Robertson Parkway to Gay Street
  • Deaderick Street (north side) from Third Avenue North to Fourth Avenue North
  • Capitol Boulevard (east side) from Church Street to Union Street
  • James Robertson Parkway from Fourth Avenue North to Third Avenue North
  • James Robertson Parkway (other side) from Fourth Avenue North to Third Avenue North
  • Fourth Avenue South (west side) from Demonbreun Street to Broadway
  • First Avenue North at Fort Nashboro (east) from Church Street to Broadway
  • First Avenue South (east side) from Broadway to Demonbreun Street
  • Broadway at the Court of the Flags (east) from First Avenue South to First Avenue North


8 Comments on this post:

By: bluesman3145 on 3/30/12 at 8:41

It didn't take long for the Metro Mafia to figure out how it would charge a pizzo to these business owners for 'protection' via lane closure and licensing taxes while appeasing the "hey, that ain't fair, he's selling better food than mine!" restauranteurs.

Let's play a game. Can you add up all the taxes a food truck pays?

(I don't own a food truck)

By: bfra on 3/30/12 at 9:51

Can you add up the taxes they don't pay as compared to brick & mortor restaurants & the inspections couldn't be near as strict.

By: 1kenthomas on 3/31/12 at 1:12

When you can't innovate-- regulate, regulate, regulate!

By: tomba1 on 3/31/12 at 7:44

This resolution has been a long time in the making and seems to have satisfied all parties directly involved - metro, the restaurant owners, and the truck owners.

These truck owners, I'm not one but I do visit them occasionally, are just as much a business as any restaurant. They have their business licenses, pay numerous business and sales taxes and fees, are subject to tax audits and fines, are subject to health department inspections of their trucks and their commissaries, and display their business license and health inspection certificates as mandated by law. They are legitimate businesses in every way.

Their success created some problems with some of the restaurants and other problems for Metro. The issues seem to have all been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties and everyone seems happy. Kudos to all involved, including the Metro Commissions and departments, for taking their time, maintaining their focus and open minds, and reaching a reasonable and manageable compromise which benefits everyone, including the public.

Complain if you must, but there is really no reason to do so other than to make you feel better.

By: 1kenthomas on 4/3/12 at 1:47



This is basic economics.

What the not-so-esteemed Metro council is doing, is putting in legislation which favours one set of parties ("their cronies," by definition) at the expense of another set of parties (anyone who would like to innovate, for instance, by setting up a new food truck business outside the new "permitted zones," etc.)

This is undue prior restraint of commerce, bad legislation and bad policy. It creates unnatural barriers to entry for new competitors and, by default, protects existing players. As such, it raises costs and stifles innovation.

We might as well become San Francisco, where the permitting process for a new coffeeshop can easily cost $50K in city fees, and involves multiple interrogations by the City Gestapo on such serious matters as whether you serve in paper, ceramic or plastic cups.

For further reading, I refer you (and anyone on the Council) to the multiple volumes of Hayek and Keynes, both of whom would oppose this sort of mettling by the mediocre in the affairs of open markets.

By: tomba1 on 4/3/12 at 10:22


would like to see a post of your "horse with feathers" aka horsefeathers.

Your "basic economics" comments ignore the fact that ALL parties involved with this discussion seem to be totally happy with the current outcome and with the openness for "adjustment" as the process goes forward. They all seem to be "all in" and "go for launch" leaving you in the lonely abyss wondering why your glass is becoming empty.

.As I previously posted, "Complain if you must, but there is really no reason to do so other than to make you feel better."

By: 1kenthomas on 4/4/12 at 12:27


Until a poor immigrant family sees opportunity in setting up shop in some area not covered by the regulation, and finds themselves unable to jump above the hoop of the barrier to entry thus established.

The point isn't that all the current parties with "vested" interests are evidently satisfied. The point is that a protectionist regulation has been established that favours these players, to the exclusion of innovation and further entrepreneurship.

That is bad policy and a violation of the principles of free markets.

By: nashvilletn on 7/2/13 at 6:29

Excellent post, thanks for sharing so useful information on food trucks. I just found pretty nice information on food truck listing at