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Food trucks to roll into Canton

Tina Tuten was in tears when she left the Canton Board of Alderman meeting last week, but luckily for her they were tears of joy.

Tuten will now be able to realize her dream of starting a new business venture after Canton aldermen approved allowing food trucks in certain areas of town. 

The decision didn’t come easy for the town board, though. After hearing comments during the public hearing, the vote to approve food trucks passed 3-1, with Alderwoman Carole Edwards against it. Mayor Mike Ray also was against approving the ordinance change, but the mayor only gets to vote in the event of a tie. 

Tuten said she was very appreciative of Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss for doing his research and presenting a great plan to allow food trucks. She also thanked Alderman Zeb Smathers for his support in getting the motion passed. While she understands everyone’s concerns, she is excited about operating Fat Belly’s in Canton. 

Allowing food trucks might seem like a fairly simple decision, but the lack of cohesiveness among the board members and the mayor may foreshadow more important decisions in the future. There are signs that the new and younger management style from Hendler-Voss and the fresh ideas from new board members may not be mixing well with the longtime mayor and Edwards. 

Smathers made the motion to approve the zoning amendment that would allow food trucks, even though Ray and Edwards didn’t want a decision to be made that night. 

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In a follow-up interview, Ray said he never thinks it’s a good idea for the board to vote on an issue the same night as the public hearing. He would rather have time to think through the comments and have the board vote on the issue at its next meeting. 

“That would give us two weeks for (the community) to be informed and ask questions and give opinions,” he said. “I never want the people to think we’re not respecting their opinions.”

Edwards — who voted in favor of the zoning change as an ex-officio member of the planning board — thought the vote should have been delayed until the next meeting and therefore voted against allowing food trucks. 

Smathers said the public had plenty of notice about the issue, which was apparent by the packed room at the meeting. The issue was reported in the local newspapers, the town’s meeting agenda was available and the public hearing was advertised on the town’s marquee sign downtown. 

“The town staff did a great job of crafting the ordinance to protect local businesses but also encourage new growth as it concerns food trucks,” Smathers said in a follow-up interview. “It’s exciting to offer this new opportunity to citizens — it brings attention to the town and shows we’re trying new things — that we’re open for business.”

Ray said he wanted to make sure the town heard the opinions of all the restaurant owners before deciding whether to allow food trucks. While the town staff presented a plan to allow food trucks only on private property and only with an approved permit, Ray said there were different ideas that could have been examined. Since many restaurants are closed on Mondays, he said perhaps the town should allow food trucks only on Mondays. 

“I come in to any situation with a clear mind without preconceived ideas before I hear from people,” he said. “Our public is intelligent — we may not have thought of something that they did.”

For those in favor of food trucks, it may seem like Ray is just holding up progress. He disagrees.

“I want our town to grow in whatever way is best for the town, but I don’t want to do anything that will hurt our businesses,” Ray said.  

Two restaurant managers spoke at the public hearing — one was opposed and one was in favor.

Angel Stockton, owner of Black Bear Café, was against allowing food trucks at all. 

“They do not contribute to the economic development as they suggested at the meeting,” she said. “They won’t pay rent, bills or employ the kind of staff that brick-and-mortar restaurants do.”

Stockton doesn’t think food trucks will create “a buzz” in town that could lead to economic growth through new businesses or tourists. She said good economic development would be improving downtown and helping existing businesses with incentives.

She said the board should have waited until the next meeting to vote on the matter because many people in the community weren’t aware of the proposed change. The only way she knew about it was because a friend called her the day of the hearing.  

As for food trucks threatening her business, Stockton said it might be something new and exciting in the beginning but she wasn’t worried about losing her customer base. 

“They will not be operating with the same overhead and expenses so maybe they can charge a lot less, but I feel like it will be more competition with fast food,” she said. 

Mark Taylor, general manager of Sagebrush Steakhouse in Canton, spoke in favor of having food trucks. 

“I certainly would like our community to grow,” he said. “We need to look at opportunities to grow our town. We can only grow the economy if we embrace new things.”

With the popularity of food trucks in Asheville, Taylor hopes it might drive some of that traffic to Canton. Since the town will allow food trucks only on private property in certain areas of town, he doesn’t feel like his business will be affected.

“I grew up in Haywood and I’ve never heard someone say there were too many options,” he said. “Small business pushes our economy and I know the health department will hold them to high standards just like they do the brick-and-mortar restaurants.”

Now that the measure has passed, Tuten hopes to open Fat Belly’s food truck in the parking lot of the former Mr. Paycheck business. She has leased the building since October and has been paying rent each month, just hoping Canton would allow food trucks. The building will act as her commissary, where she can store and prep food.  

Chuck Rector, owner of Blue Ridge BBQ, has a food truck that he uses around Haywood County. He also showed interest in setting up shop in Canton at the meeting.

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