Food Trucks face new regulations, enforcement of old ordinances

A hearing about the extension of the 2010 Food Truck Pilot Program is at 2 PM today at City Hall. Food trucks have been the obsession of the Cincinnati food community– new ones seem to pop up every week– but their future is in jeopardy with the changes to the Food Truck Pilot program, as well as the recent enforcement of an out-of-date ordinance dating to the late 70s.

The Food Truck pilot program, initiated in June of 2010, allowed food trucks and trailers to provide food in several zones around the city: one on Court Street, one at Fifth and Race, one at Sawyer Point, and one at the L&N Loop, north of Pete Rose Way. The ordinance defines operating hours as 6:30 AM-3:30 AM, except for Court Street, which is only from 6 AM-3 PM. Fees ranged from $400 a year for a trailer and $800 for a larger truck. Electricity was provided.

Changes, however, are coming, and will be discussed at a public hearing today. These changes include:

  • no more tiered pricing, and the top-end pricing is raised $200 to $1000
  • More licenses available (a total of 25)
  • No use of city electrical outlets on Court Street

I talked with Tom Acito, one of the first food truck vendors with Cafe de Wheels, about these changes. He had several concerns, including the large number of licenses, but small number of viable truck spaces, and lack of electrical outlets. “There are only eight spots that are truly viable for food trucks,” said Acito, referring to the distant outposts of L&N and Sawyer Point. “And we make 40% of our income on Friday afternoons. There’s a hit or miss chance of being able to park where the foot traffic is, and it causes tension.” There has been no expansion of locations. “We asked for a spot near P&G, or the ballparks, or near clubs: where the people are,” instead of places with little foot traffic.

There are additional roadblocks put up by the city. Though the health department has been “very helpful and [they] work with us,” said Acito, other parts of the City’s bureaucracy have been less than cooperative. “The Park Board wants to charge us $400 just for [a permit for] the Northside Fourth of July festival. The city doesn’t allow us to participate in events like Taste [of Cincinnati] or Oktoberfest because we don’t have a booth. We are our own booth!” Though the ordinance allowing food trucks allows late night hours, recently police have started to enforce an ordinance from the late 70s, 839-11b, which states that vendors cannot operate after midnight. On a recent Friday night, Acito and Cafe de Wheels were asked by police to close up shop as a line formed outside of The Drinkery in OTR. “The police are just doing their job, but [that ordinance] is outdated,” said Acito. “A big hunk of my income comes from late nights.”

Several vendors, whom Acito declined to name, are reconsidering renewing their licenses after this year, based on limited space, higher fees, and lack of electric. “The city looks at us as cash cows,” said Acito. “But all of us have spouses who hold down full-time jobs. I don’t pay myself much each week.”

The regulations around food trucks are a test of Cincinnati as a city: can we support non-traditional food services? Can we rebuild entertainment districts with bars and mobile food options as well as late-night, full-service restaurants? Can Cincinnati rethink its outdated ordinances around late-night vending? Can we embrace what many other cities have already? Head to City Hall at 12 PM and voice your support for food trucks.

  • JesyHerron

    shoot.. can’t be at City Hall to support the food trucks but I have to say that I have enjoyed everyone that I have tried. I think it is convenient, easy, and a great way to get outside for a good meal. Love that Taco Azul has been parking recently near my office on 7th and Sycamore. Why can’t more trucks park there I wonder? Hopefully Cincinnati will see the benefit in Food Trucks!

  • Phitauken

    If we have ANY chance of getting to be a Big City, attractive to the so-called creative class, we have to allow for late-night food services and innovative ideas such as these food trucks. I’m all for health regulations being enforced. I want my food to be safe. However, not all of us are in bed asleep at midnight. I am retired and I support the arts. We stay up late, have fun and SPEND MONEY! 

  • Redkatblonde

    Seems awfully greedy of the City to penalize the food trucks by raising prices and restricting their locations and electrical access. They pay taxes right? If that’s the case, and they pay the license fee, then what’s the problem? They run the risk of getting nothing at all if all the trucks shut down, as opposed to a potential growing revenue stream. City Hall needs to learn to play nice in the sandbox. 

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      They pay all of the same fees and licenses a brick-and-mortar store, are regulated by the health department, plus the additional cost of the license.

      • gk

        That is less than 400 bucks. a drop in the bucket for a brick mortar store. It is still cheating those that have been dedicated to the city for years,. (30years in our case)

        • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

          It’s great that you’ve been dedicated for years, and I wholeheartedly support small, family-owned businesses, but different types of businesses have different needs and different expenses. I don’t see food trucks as a threat, but as a complement to other small, locally-owned businesses, and I don’t see how wanting fees to be fair is cheating other businesses.

        • CBones

          So, when a NEW restaurant opens up, they are also cheating those who have been open for 30 years???

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

      Does the city (my tax dollars) pay for other businesses’ electricity?  Frankly I would think if it is a business they should pay for their own electricity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

      Does the city (my tax dollars) pay for other businesses’ electricity?  Frankly I would think if it is a business they should pay for their own electricity.

  • Bumfuzzled

    Typical of Cincinnati and the Police…start something good, then gang up on the businessman to ruin the good thing you have going.  Sad…but typical.

  • noonan130

    This can’t possibly be a “cash cow” for the city. The city should cover their costs for administering the regulations and providing electricity and let these guys do what food trucks do in other parts of the country. Council has bigger issues on which to spend its time.

  • Stewart Turkeylink

    These food trucks are a very significant part of the lively downtown action after 8pm. They provide a sense of community and attract people to places around town. They should be embraced and given more room to work where people can experience them. Cincinnati has some decent momentum with the amount/quality of food trucks, it would be a shame to see them go or be taken advantage of or limited beyond operational levels.
    Not only do they provide good eats at a reasonable price they allow some establishments to attract a hungry crowd even though the place doesn’t serve food. I have gone to specific locations to meet the food trucks and find it very casual/convenient to have one at a downtown bar during happy hour, or later in the evening.
    To not allow the trucks parking near other venues (i.e. P&G, Taste, etc.) is crazy. If you want people to work downtown, live downtown and stay downtown this is a huge draw. Also, for out of towners to find a truck near their convention or a reds game or fountain square would be a nice reason for them to stay downtown and spend money and tell someone about it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

      So far the only thing I have read that I like about these truck is that they can be near the bar scene late, after midnight til 3:30 am.  That is when the drunks need something to eat to sober up and there would be a small crowd to help make it safe from the dreggs that scour that area at that time of night for somebody to rob or something to steal.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

      So far the only thing I have read that I like about these truck is that they can be near the bar scene late, after midnight til 3:30 am.  That is when the drunks need something to eat to sober up and there would be a small crowd to help make it safe from the dreggs that scour that area at that time of night for somebody to rob or something to steal.

  • Joe Gorman

    I knew it was too good to be true that Cincinnati would be open-minded to promote these types of street vendors. We will stop seeking one for Camp Washington on Hopple Street since it appears the City leaders are going to muck it up.

  • Joe Gorman

    I knew it was too good to be true that Cincinnati would be open-minded to promote these types of street vendors. We will stop seeking one for Camp Washington on Hopple Street since it appears the City leaders are going to muck it up.

  • http://smalltownbigcincy.wordpress.com/ Rach

    This is just insane!! All you hear about lately is “lack of business” and “deficit deficit deficit” These guys are basically an easy answer to your prayers for crying out loud!! You mentioned one instance of the police shutting it down with a huge line! There just went your revenue stream… This city needs to get its act together and fast!

  • Caelidh

    that really is a shame.  I am increasingly ashamed at my city. Here is something that could bring diversity and interest to our city and they just run it into the ground. I have a friend who runs a food truck and really is trying to depend on it to bring in primary income!. 

  • Classicgrrl

    I wonder what the justification is for these types of regulations?  Cincinnati has a history of jepordizing small biz.  This makes ZERO sense politically or fiscally.

  • Gredman

    Cincinnati management at it’s regular position of failure…

  • Guest

    My guess is once city council forces the food trucks to close, Newport, Covington, & Bellevue will welcome them with open arms and fewer regulations.

  • John_schill

    It is Cincinnati, just give it 10 years.

  • GK

    I feel the food trucks and the city are cheating the businesses that sign 10, 20 year leases. It costs our family owned company alot more than $1000 to run our shop for a year,a month may be $2,500+ for rent, electric, remodeling… restrooms that the non customers want to use also…. The list goes on.  Everyone always have hands out wanting more,  That is what is wrong with our society.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      GK, while I sympathize with the plight of the small business owner, remember that food trucks have more overhead than just that $1000 fee– everything from truck maintenance to the rental of a prep kitchen, to the same fees and taxes you pay.  It doesn’t seem like they want a handout, they just don’t want to pay a large fee on top of all of the fees and taxes that a brick-and-mortar business pays.  

    • Rene Aljure

      How is this a hand out? It’s a different business model. If you can’t convince that coming into your sit-down restaurant instead of eating while standing on the street from a (fully tax-paying and law-abiding food truck (e.g,, all of them), then you’re doing it wrong.

      If this is your argument, then you should be complaining about hot-dog vendors and convenience stores and their advantages over your own business.

    • Tinacart

      How is it cheating?  You made the CHOICE to be a brick & mortar business.  Suck it up.  If you don’t like what you’re paying, then maybe YOU should open a food truck.

      Otherwise, it’s pretty childish to be whining that the food trucks don’t have to pay as much as you do.  Whaaaahh!

  • gk

    We also pay thousands to be a part of Taste/ Oktoberfest.  Pay the chamber and pull your truck in.  Stop trying to cheat the paying businesses. We can’t drive away if it rains, we take that chance every year.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

      When I spoke with Tom, he said that he had asked to pay the fee and was denied because they would not allow trucks into Taste.

      • ronald

        Miss Julie, I wish you would learn basic comma rules when writing.

        • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com Julie

          I’m certain you’ve never made a mistake when typing quickly, have you?

  • http://twitter.com/drewmckenzie Drew McKenzie

    standard Cincinnati issue – kill something good due to council not really understanding the dynamics of running a business…it will be a shame if these changes force these small business owners to shut down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

    Cash Cow? $200 or $1000 for 25 licenses is not a drop in the $30 million budget deficit we have.  $25,000 doesn’t even pay for one clerk.

    • Alex Nager

      All these trucks pay taxes on their earnings just like any other small business. They also hire people who pay taxes to the city on their paychecks. If you can’t understand that, I’m not sure you’re adding anything to this conversation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Moody/100002055669726 Bob Moody

    Cash Cow? $200 or $1000 for 25 licenses is not a drop in the $30 million budget deficit we have.  $25,000 doesn’t even pay for one clerk.

  • Mike M

    Having lived in Portland, OR, the genesis of major Food Cart pods, I think what the city is doing is pretty outrageous.  Food carts provide their own form of food culture that can lead to a sense of pride in a community or neighborhood.  They provide the feeling of “local” that big restaurants and chains cannot.  Often times the owners and employees are super polite and friendly because they know their business depends on word of mouth.  One year for an experiment is not enough, jacking up fees, and enforcing out dated police ordinances is not the way to go about keeping these carts around.  If the management of this city continues to operate in this manner we will be a city of Applebees  known for a Mark Twain quote whose residents over indulge in chili.

  • Deetums

    gk – It’s called competition. Maybe step up your game if you are feeling so threatened by a few food trucks.

  • Anonymous

    Garbage wagons are a filthy nuisance .If one wants to sling hash , poney up for a storefront period

    • Will

      Is someone holding a gun to your head to force you to spend money at food trucks?  If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.  If you don’t like food trucks, don’t give them your money…but leave the rest of us alone. 

  • Joe Wessels

    Did anybody talk with the city about this? I’m curious their reaction. Often I have found that the city leaders are often unaware how their actions (i.e. “ordinances”) are being carried out. This probably could be fixed quickly.

  • Dieterschmied

    We need to revisit why we have a city government in the first place. Cincinnati doesn’t exist because of city hall; city hall exist because of the city.  I don’t know why the people tolerate city hall and city hall’s  forever taking something off the top and effectively not allowing the people to enjoy the things that are attractive to people that want city living to be fun and exiting.

    These food trucks give us something fresh and fun.  I think that those people at city hall actually think that we should only sit down at a meal in a conventional manner or we can’t be proper in their deluded eyes. Anything that is new or spontaneous should be licensed, controlled, taxes and discouraged if it is in Cincinnati.  We really need to raze the city hall and start all over with present city workers and council banned to Siberia without a passport or map.

  • Mike

     ”The Park Board wants to charge us $400 just for [a permit for] the Northside Fourth of July festival”  Isn’t that paid to the festival organizers, the Northside Business Organization?

  • http://jayewalking.com/ Jacklyn

    This is really fascinating.  I came from Nashville and we have some awesome food trucks so I’m really excited to try some here in Cicni.  I hope I get to with these regulations :(

  • http://www.eatwithflourpower.com Becky Schlosser

    Such a lively debate! I love the food trucks and my husband and I will often drive from the suburbs and find CDW on a Saturday night for dinner. Its a real shame what’s happening to them.

  • Rick

    I can’t think of any business that these trucks directly compete with given the locations where they are permitted to operate. Options for consumers is not a bad thing – it forces vendors to create a product that is wanted and offer it at a fair price. There is no unfair competative advantage here. I wonder how many people look forward to eating outside on rainy days or when i’ts 30 degrees.

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  • http://foodjaunts.com Food Jaunts

    I love food trucks and I’ve been making it a point to support them.  But the city is just starting to get ridiculous about it.  I was so excited when they finally allowed them, and look what’s happening :(  
    I mean, if you check guidebooks about Cincinnati, we’re known as a city that eats, that loves food.  Shouldn’t we try to be as supportive of food trucks as possible?

    Otherwise I agree, they’re all going to end up heading to Covington/Newport area which will just be another reason for people to go across the river.

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