Local food entrepreneurs, take note: the Detroit City Council is working on a new city-wide ordinance that will provide a clear legal framework for food trucks looking to operate in the city. The ordinance will clarify the permitting process, define where food trucks can park, and develop distinct categories of mobile food businesses (e.g., food trucks, hot dog stands, produce carts). The ordinance will also allow private landowners to apply for a permit to zone their property as a “food pod,” which would let them to contract with multiple food truck owners to lease space to park within their pod. Food pods and other relaxed land use regulations are credited with creating the thriving food truck scenes in cities like Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon.
Given the influx of thousands of new employees and residents who have moved to Detroit in the last few years, the demand for food trucks is greater than ever. Despite the rapidly increasing demand, Detroit’s food truck industry in Detroit is still relatively new. Detroit’s first fully licensed food truck has only been in operation for just 4 years, and it took the owners more than 60 trips to City Hall in order to obtain the proper licensing.
Detroit also does not have an ordinance that specifically regulates food trucks, which makes operating a food truck in the city complicated and uncertain. Nearly all food trucks in Detroit choose to operate on private property, since food truck owners can more easily work out agreements with private property owners. Given the city’s lack of clear guidelines, most food truck owners won’t risk parking on public streets or public property.
Even with these logistical challenges, the food truck business continues to grow in scope and popularity in Detroit, with many well-known local restaurants like Andiamo and Bigalora joining in and creating their own food trucks. Food trucks are often an ideal venture for new entrepreneurs who don’t have much startup capital, since they typically don’t require significant upfront costs. For example, one local food truck estimated its startup costs at $20,000 for the truck and its website, while the average restaurant costs about $500,000 to get off the ground. Hopefully, City Council will recognize the importance of this growing industry, adopt the ordinance, and streamline the process for prospective food truck owners to operate in the city. City Council members hope the draft ordinance will be adopted by the end of this year so it will be in effect by 2016. We will be sure to provide an update on the City Council’s decision regarding the ordinance.
The attorneys at Dalton & Tomich have extensive experience in business law and land use and zoning, so we are uniquely prepared to help food truck operators in all aspects of their business. If you are interested in opening a food truck in the city of Detroit, feel free to contact us to discuss your venture.