Bluffton food fight: Restaurants vs. food trucks

A food fight broke out at Tuesday’s Bluffton Town Council meeting, pitting food truck owners — who are not currently allowed to operate in town limits — against owners of brick and mortar establishments.

During a council workshop, food truck owners from around Beaufort County made their pitch in favor of changes to town code that would allow them to operate in Bluffton. They were countered by several Old Town business owners who expressed concerns that the trucks would hurt their businesses and exacerbate parking problems.

Ted Huffman, a former council member and owner of Bluffton BBQ in Old Town, spoke against allowing food trucks in the historic district, saying the trucks could endanger “the livelihood of me and 100 other restaurant owners.”

“Brick and mortar folks have fought and established Old Town as a viable place to come and do business,” he said.

Huffman called Bluffton’s would-be food truck operators “carpetbaggers,” insinuating that they want to move in and take advantage of the town’s popularity, which Old Town restaurant owners helped build.

“They should compete among themselves in a parking lot somewhere,” he said of food truck owners.

Food truck owners defended themselves and their businesses.

Bridgette Frazier said, “There seems to be a lot of fear of the unknown.”

But it is unfair for the town to regulate food truck operators on the basis of fear from restaurant owners, she said.

Charles Francis, who owns a food truck as well as the brick and mortar Crave CupCake Boutique in Beaufort, said he understands “the arguments that a lot of people have about the competition that food trucks bring.”

But, he said, trucks and traditional restaurants can coexist without cannibalizing each other.

“I don’t want to set up (a food truck) in front of anyone’s business, just like I wouldn’t anyone setting up in front of my business,” Francis said.

Savannah is the process of drafting food truck rules that would allow operation with certain caveats, including a ban on conducting business within 200 feet of a brick and mortar restaurant.

Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka and members of the council instructed staff to meet with food truck and restaurant owners to see if some common ground can be reached before drafting and specific changes to town regulations.

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