Food truck trend traveling to Canton
Downtown Canton could have more food options if the town board approves allowing food trucks to set up shop.
The Canton Planning Board took up the topic at a recent meeting after being asked by town staff to explore the possibility. While food trucks have not been allowed in the past under the town’s zoning ordinance, the planning board voted to recommend allowing them in certain areas.
“I, and the rest of the board, feel that allowing food trucks in Canton could bring an element of vibrancy. Food trucks will provide the opportunity for people to gather and will allow for more diverse food choices to town residents,” said Vicki Eastland, a Canton Planning Board member. “It potentially allows upstart entrepreneurs the opportunity to have a business they might not otherwise be able to afford.”
The planning board unanimously recommended making amendments to the zoning ordinance to allow mobile food vending with special requirements in certain districts.
Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss said the economic impact of the mobile food industry was undisputable. In 2012, the National Restaurant Association reported that food trucks generated about $650 million in revenue in 2012 — about 1 percent of total U.S. restaurant sales.
Eastland said some of the planning board’s concerns over allowing food trucks included trash, loitering and trucks being located too close to residential areas. Members also expressed concerns about whether Canton restaurants would feel like food trucks would infringe on their established businesses. Eastland said she hasn’t heard any negative feedback from any restaurants.
“The conversation was very positive — town staff did a great job of researching food truck ordinances in other locations and around the country,” Eastland said. “The discussion was mostly about what areas of town that food trucks would become an allowable use.”
While the food truck business in Asheville has grown in recent years, Hendler-Voss said there are few operating in Haywood County, adding that Canton has the opportunity to serve as a catalyst for the emerging industry.
The recommendation made to the board of aldermen clearly states that food trucks would not be allowed in residential areas of town. Hendler-Voss also thinks allowing food trucks would be a good move for the town as it tries to ramp up downtown.
“Mobile food units have become a popular attraction in many cities because of their unique culinary fare and the convenient alternative they offer to brick-and-mortar restaurants,” he said in a memo to the planning board. “They also bring vibrancy to cities by generating foot traffic, provide food to part of town devoid of dining options, and extend opportunities for entrepreneurs seeking a low capital entrance into the restaurant industry.”
If approved by the board of aldermen, food trucks would be allowed to operate on private property between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in areas zoned for business and industry.
Food truck vendors would have to have a signed health department certificate, proof of insurance, a driver’s license and written permission from a private property owner to receive a privilege license and an annual permit from the town. While trucks wouldn’t be able to park and operate in front of a business along Main Street, he said there were several ideal spots for vendors.
“There’s a few possibilities — several service parking lots downtown who would probably be willing to let them park and set up shop,” Hendler-Voss said.
Hendler-Voss said the issue was brought to the town’s attention when Tina Tuten, a former restaurant owner, approached the town about her desire to expand her business with a food truck service. She’s already purchased a truck but needs the town’s permission to move forward.
Tuten plans to operate Fat Belly’s from the former Mr. Paycheck property and serve an array on menu items, including 11 different types of gourmet fries and Indian fried bread as well as classics like hamburgers.
Food trucks typically contract with a restaurant to serve as its commissary, which is a health code requirement. Having a restaurant base would allow the food truck vendor to store food, dump waste, clean their mobile unit and park it overnight.
Hender-Voss said Tuten has proposed operating a stand-alone commissary on New Clyde Highway in the Mr. Paycheck space — a pre-fabricated metal storage unit converted to an office use. He said the arrangement would satisfy the health department’s requirements though it is atypical in most of the towns he researched.
Public input wanted
Canton will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. March 26 during the town board’s regular meeting regarding a zoning amendment to allow food trucks.