June 01–Members of Tupelo’s City Council expressed an interest this week in crafting new regulations on the city’s food trucks.
We urge them to tread very carefully in this area.
Tuesday’s discussion at a City Council work session followed a request last year by Ward 1 Councilman Markel Whittington that the city examine an ordinance to regulate mobile food vendors, as reported by the Daily Journal’s Caleb Bedillion and Dennis Seid.
A majority of the Republican-controlled council appears to support some kind of ordinance, although details remain undecided. A handful of council members pushed several proposals, with many of them involving a desire to require food trucks to remain a certain distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Meanwhile, Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton called for restraint. He and Chief Operations Officer Don Lewis noted that food prep facilities used by food trucks fall already under the same regulations that govern restaurants.
Food trucks have enjoyed strong growth in Tupelo since Local Mobile became the city’s first such operation about four years ago. Today, at least three other food trucks operate in the city, along with several mobile food trailers.
That is a good thing. The growth of such businesses is another element that contributes to Tupelo’s efforts to attract families and young residents to call it home. Those efforts are necessary, and they have been an intentional goal of Shelton’s administration.
And the expansion of food trucks is part of that fabric, improving the city’s quality of life and adding to a hip, vibrant, entrepreneurial culture.
That’s why we urge the City Council to be careful to not disrupt that. There have not been any significant issues or public complaints that have driven a need for a new policy. We do not see the need to introduce another layer of bureaucracy that stymies innovation.
Obviously, Tupelo’s restaurants are also a vital part of its culture — and its economy — and the viewpoints of restaurant owners must be carefully weighed. At a February meeting between those owners and food truck vendors, the restaurateurs were supportive of food tucks but also called for the city to have some rules. Among the items they mentioned was a minimum distance food trucks can be from restaurants.
Having a level playing field is important, and city leaders would do well to carefully listen to these concerns. But we believe the growth of mobile food vendors does not pose a significant threat to the city’s restaurants.
As the city considers a possible ordinance, we urge them to study policies in place in other communities that have vibrant food truck operations and to not go further.
Tupelo should be doing what it can to become more attractive to food trucks — not less.
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