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Regulations are few, but food trucks do have laws and codes to meet

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Take a food truck to Chicago and you may be required to attach a GPS tracking device to it. Maneuver afood truck through New York and be prepared to possibly limit drink sizes to 16 ounces.

Park a food truck in Indianapolis and enjoy being able to do business in an environment of few regulations. The labor laws and health codes that govern restaurants apply to food trucks, but owners do not have to worry about extra requirements like tracking systems and operating only in specific zones.

Indeed, the lack of regulations is credited with helping to foster the growth of the industry in Indiana’s capital city from essentially one truck in 2010 to 47 trucks and counting today. To sustain the comparatively cart blanche atmosphere, a loose coalition of food truck and some brick-and-mortar restaurant owners are trying to work together to avoid the kinds of disputes that could inspire city hall to cook up a new ordinance.
 

il-food-truck05-15col.jpg Crystal Williams (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“Restaurateurs are not by nature people who ask for more regulation,” said John Livengood, president of the Indiana Restaurant Association.

Crystal Williams, an associate at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, has become familiar with

the differing regulations as part of her work assisting national restaurant chains that are expanding into the food truck sector. She emphasized these established eateries cannot arrive in a city, flip open their truck, and start serving food. Rather they have to adjust their operations to comply with the unique codes of each community.

For example, Chicago does not allow food trucks to cook on board or park within 200 feet of a restaurant. However, Indianapolis permits food trucks to station themselves in any valid parking space and cook on board but prohibits the sale of food on public property between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The patchwork of requirements can be confusing and frustrating, but Williams does not expect a call for national regulations regarding food trucks. Each city, she said, knows what it needs and fashions its ordinances accordingly.

A business is a business

When he sketched out his business plan for his food truck, Matt Kornmeyer, owner of the Scratchtruck, admitted he planned for failure. He thought he would need at least 40 customers at lunch each day to survive, but he now averages between 70 and 100 customers and is three years ahead of his revenue targets.

“I still don’t get it,” Kornmeyer said of the popularity of food trucks. “I’m right in the middle of it, and sometimes I sit and shake my head and say, ‘Look at all the people.’”

That kind of success is spurring the growth of food trucks across the United States and luring chain restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Subway and Taco Bell to put trucks on the street.

“I think it’s becoming a new way we are consuming food,” Williams said. “I think it is becoming a middle ground between a large, fancy restaurant and fast food.”

However, Williams cautioned against the assumption that success in the food truck industry comes easy. Owners have to be aware of not only the regulations specific to mobile vendors but also of the laws and requirements, like local employment laws and intellectual property safeguards, that apply to any business operation.

“It’s still a business,” she said. “You still have employees, and employees have rights you have to abide by.”

Williams recommended that anyone thinking about launching a food truck business should first consult an attorney. This will help avert such situations as entrepreneurs investing in an operation and then discovering later that city ordinances prohibit them from selling the food they want to offer or in the places they want to be.

food truck factbox

She emphasized that individuals entering the food truck business must also be knowledgeable about local sanitation regulations. They must be sure that the kitchens used to prepare the food and the kitchen spaces on the vehicles meet the codes.

Matt Frey, who opened Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream with his wife in 2003, is a brick-and-mortar restaurateur branching into food trucks.

Frey echoed Williams by pointing out that the health codes set for food trucks are very similar to a restaurant. As in his establishment, his truck has to have things like a hot water heater, wastewater tank, hand washing sink, and he has to adhere to the same food safety requirements.

The truck has made catering easier since all the equipment to properly store and prepare the menu is on board, he said. Cooking in the vehicle is a more s

anitary and safer way to cater, plus he is able to prepare a burger that customers tell him tastes exactly like those he serves in his restaurant.

“I think it’s a real clever idea,” Frey said of food trucks.

Wheels v. bricks

Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration has so far taken a hands-off approach to regulating mobile food vendors. The administration favors educating food truck operators, code enforcement officials, and others about the rules already on the books rather than implementing special regulations, said Marc Lotter, spokesman for the mayor.

Food trucks are doing a good job in terms of communicating with each other and working off best practices, Lotter said.

Kornmeyer, who launched the Scratchtruck about 13 months ago, believes the city will enact food truck regulations at some point. To provide a blueprint for any future ordinance and to prevent any, in his word, “crazy” regulations like not being allowed to park within a thousand feet of a restaurant, he has organized the Indianapolis Food Truck Alliance, an informal coalition of truck operators who have developed a code of conduct.

One provision in this code bars food trucks from parking within 100 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

The Indiana Restaurant Association occasionally fields complaints from brick-and-mortar establishment owners about food trucks, Livengood said. And usually the issue is a mobile unit parked right outside their doors.

“I hope the food trucks that did this will understand it’s not in their interest to pick a fight,” he said, noting if a war breaks out between restaurants and mobile vendors, city government will likely side with the restaurants.

Kornmeyer puts his Scratchtruck on the street Tuesday through Saturday and alerts his customers to the location via social media.

He advocates maintaining a cordial relationship with downtown restaurants yet, at the same time, he chafes against their concerns. He said his food establishment offers only food and personality, and if restaurants are worried about him taking away their business, he continued, they should look at their menus instead of trying to hamper the food trucks.

Moreover, he questioned why regulations are penalizing food trucks for changing the game. No one ever prohibited consumers from downloading a book in front of a bookstore, he said, yet restrictions are being written to protect a “dinosaur industry.”

Frey’s restaurant has locations in Carmel and Bloomington. He agreed with Kornmeyer that brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs have to adjust to changing times, but he does get irked by food trucks’ nomad existence, noting restaurants have invested in real estate and pay property taxes as well as utilities.

Also like Kornmeyer, Frey would rather restaurants and food trucks develop the rules of operation themselves. Cooperation between competitors is possible and will stunt any need for government involvement.

“In my book, there’s always a solution,” Frey said. “You just have to be willing to negotiate and compromise.”•



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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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