Restaurants could get new mobile food permits

Restaurants could get new mobile food permits

UPDATE: At its meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9, the Beaumont City Council unanimously passed the new ordinance regarding the mobile food units.

Restaurants in fixed locations that want to operate mobile food trucks won’t have to abide by the same regulations as independent food trucks if the City Council approves a new round of regulations regarding mobile food units in what would be the first change in mobile food regulations in more than three years.

When the Beaumont City Council approved a tough new ordinance back in 2009 to regulate taco trucks, barbecue stands on wheels and other mobile food vendors, it was responding to complaints about food handling and public safety from citizens, including some restaurant operators concerned when the trucks set up shop near their eateries – and because these mobile units did not bear the high overhead costs associated with building and health code compliance.

The new ordinance resulted in the 13 operators who had been licensed at the end of 2008 essentially being put out of business because they could only be permitted for a period of time not to exceed 14 days. In addition, they could only get such a permit four times per calendar year with a 30-day time period between each consecutive permit issuance. It’s hard to sustain a retail food business under those restrictions, and taco trucks disappeared from Beaumont.

Among the new ordinances proposed Tuesday, Oct. 2, existing restaurants who want to operate mobile food units would not have to obtain periodic food sales permits, could empty their wastewater tanks every 48 hours (previously every 96 hours) and, unlike their independent counterparts, mobile units operated by existing restaurants would not have to be adjacent to suitable restrooms, according to the council.

City Manager Kyle Hayes said that, while he respects the entrepreneurial spirit of independent food trucks, the ability of the city’s health department to police such units is almost non-existent.

“If we have existing businesses in Beaumont that pay taxes and know the rules, they work with our health department all the time,” he said. “If they wanna be in the mobile food business ... we feel comfortable with that because they’re businesses that are here and know the rules.”

Reports that the new ordinances could lead to a burst of new food trucks here are likely erroneous. With few exceptions, the growth of such vehicles in Houston, Austin and nationwide has come from new food service entrepreneurs, not existing restaurants.

As The Examiner reported earlier this year, the only food truck operating in Beaumont under the 14-day temporary permit is Bánh Mon Renegade Street Food trailer, dispensing a hybrid version of the Vietnamese/French sandwich Bánh Mi created by Chef Monica Cobb. She has been able to sandwich Bánh Mi created by Chef Monica Cobb. She has been able to obtain multiple permits with no waiting period because the Health Department has accepted her contention that her husband standing outside her trailer strumming on his guitar qualifies her for an exception in the ordinance for festivals. Presumably, any mobile food applicant could qualify for this loophole by having an entertainer nearby.

Hayes said the city’s regulations regarding independent mobile food trucks will not change, adding he wants to put existing Beaumont small businesses first.

“We’re just trying help the businesses that are here and have been paying taxes,” he said.

The proposed ordinance changes will be considered at a public hearing next week, with a vote like to follow on Oct. 16