Charles Francis and his wife, Tamecka, have sold cupcakes from their Beaufort business for the past several years.
The colorful food truck they bought to complement the business, Crave CupCake Boutique, has been deployed only once in the city. The truck stakes out a spot in Bluffton’s Tanger Outlets on weekends and has attended a food truck festival in Savannah.
Francis hopes Crave CupCake Boutique can set up its mobile shop closer to home. And the city of Beaufort is looking at changing its rules to allow food trucks to operate in more places.
“Most food truck guys don’t want to be in the same place every day,” Francis said. “They’re looking to set up a moment in time — preferably a time you’re not competing with a brick-and-mortar (business).”
Beaufort currently allows food trucks in shopping centers and other commercial areas with at least four businesses. Proposed new rules would ease those restrictions to include any commercial area.
City officials considered food truck rules during a City Council workshop Tuesday. Current rules were drafted a decade or longer ago and are now seen as restrictive, Beaufort planning director Libby Anderson said.
“Food trucks are really popular across the nation,” she said Tuesday.
Under a draft of the city’s new code, food trucks would be allowed in all commercial areas. Suburban neighborhoods and neighborhoods in the historic district would be off limits.
Written permission from the property owner and an approved site plan would be required for a city permit.
In a presentation during the City Council workshop, Councilman Stephen Murray suggested the rules be changed sooner than the new code is adopted. He said the new rules might need to be more comprehensive than what is proposed in the code, to consider how far trucks be allowed to set up from a permanent restaurant and other issues like fees and out-of-town vendors.
Murray read off opinions he solicited on his Facebook page and said food trucks have been lauded for encouraging entrepreneurship, revitalizing areas and engaging younger residents.
“I wanted this on the agenda simply to open the conversation,” he said.
Food trucks are a hot topic in Beaufort County.
Hilton Head Island is considering allowing food trucks at its beaches. Bluffton has also talked about allowing the trucks within town limits.
In Bluffton, some Old Town restaurant owners feared the mobile businesses would threaten brick-and-mortar restaurants. In Beaufort, food truck gatherings have been held in recent years in Beaufort Town Center, a large shopping center including a pavilion off of Boundary Street.
Port Royal is seen as having the most food-truck friendly rules, with a flat fee and designated public areas to set up shop.
Chip Dinkins, who heads operations at Plums and Saltus on Bay Street, said before Tuesday’s meeting that food trucks are a good idea if they play by the same rules as restaurants and don’t cause traffic and parking issues.
Food truck owners who attended Tuesday’s discussion noted the businesses are held to strict standards by state health regulators. The Department of Health and Environmental Control requires the trucks return to a permitted restaurant or commercial kitchen each day.
“We clean our truck after every event,” said Amber Bryson, who with Pete Izzillo spent $75,000 to start a food truck last year. “I think that it’s important for people to know this is a way of life.”
Dinkins said he likes the city’s current rules because of the ample parking and space a shopping center provides. But he is also in favor of the mobile eateries other places, as long as they aren’t parked outside the front door of other restaurants.
Downtown already faces enough parking challenges, but there could be opportunities for the trucks on open lots if the property owners were willing, Dinkins said.
“I don’t know that we would have any problem with that, as long as we’re all operating under the same rules and somebody’s not getting to do something for free,” he said.