Houston Food Truck Owners Ask City Hall For Looser Regulations

If you don’t count the ice cream trucks and small push-carts, Houston has almost 800 food trucks with kitchens.  

Dozens of food-truck owners and their supporters packed the chamber at City Hall for a hearing about whether to loosen a few of the current regulations.

Currently, food trucks that use propane — and that’s most of them — can’t operate downtown or in the medical center. And everywhere else in the city, the trucks can’t park within 60 feet of each other.

Bobby Heugel owns Anvil and other bars and restaurants in Houston. He doesn’t see them as competition, and says Houston needs to follow the example of other cities and ease up on food trucks.

“I’m here to tell you that in almost every single city across the country where pro-food truck legislation has passed, it’s had a positive impact on the neighborhoods. It promotes vitality. It encourages more people to visit areas such as downtown that currently don’t have visitors in the way that we’d like to see them.”

The new rules would allow a few trucks to set up near each other, and would allow food trucks to operate downtown.

The Downtown Management District supports the move, but the Greater Houston Restaurant Association opposes it.

Michael Shine represents the restaurant association and says he’s particularly concerned about a new rule that would allow a food truck to set up three tables and six chairs.

“This essentially allows them to become restaurants on wheels versus mobile trucks. And yes, it does set them in direct competition with brick-and-mortar restaurants.”

But Heugel says that’s outdated thinking. He’s president of an alternative restaurant association, OKRA (Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs), which focuses on local food culture and neighborhood issues.

He says he actually invites food trucks to park near his bar, Anvil.

He says the trucks attract more customers, and his own sales increase.

Still, many council members were skeptical and wondered whether downtown restaurants might suffer. Here’s District G Councilman Oliver Pennington:

“I think what we need to do is not to discourage the restaurateurs and shop owners who are willing to make an investment by having, kind of, some of the money skimmed off by people who make a lesser investment.”

The rules are still being debated at the committee level, and won’t come up for full council vote for at least a month.

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