After nearly a year of contentious debate that culminated this summer in an Asheville City Council vote to allow food-truck owners to operate downtown, one very important question remains: Where the heck are the food trucks?
Asheville urban planner Alan Glines recently informed Xpress that none of the food-truck vendors had applied for the 10 available downtown vending licenses.
So what gives? It’s a problem of location, location, location. Under ordinances that Council put into place in early September, downtown vending permits are site-specific, meaning that food-truck operators can’t apply for a permit until they’ve secured a place to vend. It’s been tough to find centrally located lots that adhere to the city’s rules, vendors say. Those rules require (among other things) electrical outlets to eliminate generator noise, which aren’t easy to find.
"Folks are zeroing in on a few sites, but nothing definitive yet," Glines explained in an email to Xpress. Another challenge? Many downtown vacant lots have been turned into pay-to-park lots. "An owner has to be convinced that it will be a favorable offset [in order] to make the move to mobile-food vending," Glines said.
Xpress contacted two food-truck vendors — Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine and Nate Kelly of the Lowdown Food Truck — to get their take. They’ve found one promising lot, the two report. It’s possible that we might even have falafel and tofu bahn mi sandwiches available downtown before Thanksgiving. The potential vending site is located just south of the bus station on Coxe Avenue, and while it’s not exactly smack in the middle of town, it’s close.
Phillips says that the road to finding a place to vend has been bumpy. Her calls to the Lantzius family, who own several lots on or near North Lexington Avenue, have gone unanswered. But the owner of the Coxe lot seems ready to allow vendors, she says.
"We just got the OK from the guy,” says Phillips, who’s working with Kelly to figure out specs on the lot. “We're going to look at putting some trees in, the electricity — and hopefully we'll be able to be up and running before the holidays.” Only after all of the proper up-fit has been added to the potential site can she and other food-truck operators apply to vend there, she says. If all goes well, she hopes to see the property become a food-truck destination where up to four food trucks can set up on a daily basis.
Kelly is equally upbeat about the location. "I think the spot will be really good — we're right next to the [Asheville] Pizza Company, Thirsty Monk, Jack of the Wood; there are some good bars around there," he says. "I think Coxe is up-and-coming, so I'm really excited."
Kelly cautions that the contracts still need to be solidified. Pink Taco Truck owner Marni Graves, an architect, has drawn blueprints allowing for parking spaces for diners and possibly a central dining area that could include a picnic table. "If we have [seating], then we're considered a restaurant, so then we have to have handicap accessibility and bathrooms, but I think that we can do that pretty easily," Kelly says.
If all goes well, Asheville may have its first mobile food court by Thanksgiving. "We have to talk to the electrician first, maybe talk to Alan [Glines] again, but I think it's a go — I really do," says Kelly.
— Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org