On Tuesday morning, eight food trucks and one enthusiastic chef rolled onto Hilton Head Island to film an episode of “The Great Food Truck Race” in Shelter Cove Community Park.
Residents had no more than 24 hours notice of the food trucks’ arrival, and Shelter Cove officials confirmed they “were just getting word about it” as the trucks rolled up, but crowds swarmed to the park on Wednesday and Thursday nonetheless.
A lot of the public reception of the event was positive: More than 250 Facebook users commented on the article posted by The Island Packet — many tagging friends and making plans to go.
Attendees of the event said the trucks “ran out of food several times.”
But the pop-up event sponsored by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce left other Hilton Head residents breathless, specifically those who have been trying to start food truck businesses of their own on the island.
“I personally have been trying to open a food truck for several months,” Hilton Head resident Bryan Bobinchuck told The Island Packet. “Yet I have been struggling to get permission from the town.”
He said the display at Shelter Cove proved how “hungry” Hilton Head Island is for a robust food truck scene.
Hilton Head business owner Taiwan Scott owns Beautiful Island Square on Marshland Road — an open air space he’s been trying to market as a food truck destination for several years.
Right now, there’s one truck on the property named “Taco Brown.”
As crowds were enjoying vegan eats and barbecue mac and cheese across the marsh, Taco Brown was getting a notice to vacate from town officials because Scott’s property is not compliant with land management ordinance buffer requirements.
“How ironic,” Scott told The Island Packet. “The exact same day it was announced (the food trucks) were coming, Taco Brown was told to leave my establishment.”
Jane Harmon, who owned the food truck Shrimp Loco in Beaufort County from 2013 to 2017, said the most difficult part of the business was getting licensing so they could move the truck to different locations and sell.
“It was the biggest headache to get any licensing or approval,” she said. “We were finally able to open up but we could only be in so many places. It was a thorn in our side and it didn’t make it easy for us to make money.”
What does town code say about food trucks?
The short answer is: nothing yet.
“We’re starting to draft language and researching it,” deputy director of community development Teri Lewis said Friday. “At some point in the future, you will see something about those types of businesses in the Land Management Ordinance.”
That effort has been ongoing since 2017, according to previous reporting by The Island Packet.
Right now, vendors looking to open food trucks on the island must have a permit from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control and submit a site plan to the Town of Hilton Head Island to be classified as “open air sales,” Lewis said.
A short history of food trucks on Hilton Head
In 2017, official interest in food trucks surfaced on the island in the form of a “mobile vending forum” to discuss allowing things like food trucks, ice cream carts and push carts.
That resulted in a “food truck pilot program” in summer 2017, when four food trucks were given contracts to set up shop for lunch on the weekends at Driessen, Chaplin and Burkes beach parks.
Local food truck owners were excited about the prospects.
“This is the type of opportunity food trucks have been hoping for,” Lori Holland, owner of Lowcountry Lobster food truck, said in 2017. “I am excited for existing and new food trucks in the area.”
But by the end of summer, Lewis said the program went “OK,” and only one of the four food trucks was consistently pleased with the turnout.
The other trucks reported that potential customers often didn’t know the trucks were going to be there before packing their lunches for the beach.
Lewis said the purpose of the pilot program was to gauge interest and help relieve some of the pressure on the tourist-saturated Coligny beach area. When the food trucks and other measures didn’t accomplish that, the program was discontinued.
A resurfacing in 2019
With the increasing usage of social media to follow food trucks, interest in events such as Food Network’s filming and food truck festivals in Charleston and Savannah reaches far and wide on sites like Facebook.
This year at RBC Heritage presented by Boeing, the tournament has added a “food truck village” to appeal to a variety of tastes, and four food trucks will be parked on the Heritage Lawn throughout the tournament.
As the town works to keep up with the interest in the trucks, Lewis said the government’s code will have to change.
“We know people like food trucks and want to see them on Hilton Head,” Lewis said. “(We’re) hoping to have something adopted by the end of the year.”