For less than 400 words, ordinance 104.62 causes a lot of headache for the City of Marathon, its residents and business owners.
The law governing food trucks has been a subject of debate for years. The last attempt to modify it happened back in 2015, when the planning commission made a recommendation to expand the hours of operation. It was never officially adopted, however, and the council abandoned the issue when the only food truck — Cocomo’s — closed its doors and motored out of town.
Now the City of Marathon may very well figure out its food truck law before the trend passes out of fashion. The issue resurfaced on Jan. 8, when Marathon Councilman Steve Cook suggested a workshop. It’s set for Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Marathon City Hall.
“I would like to de-regulate a lot of it,” said Cook.
As it stands right now, mobile food vendors can only remain in the right-of-way for 10 minutes, such as the case for an ice cream truck, or in one spot for two consecutive hours during a 24-hour period. Chris Lordi of Irie Island Eats said that’s not nearly long enough to make decent food.
“It’s impossible. Personally, I’m here every morning at 7 a.m. to do the prep work to open at 11 a.m.,” he said. Lordi is one of two food trucks that operate consistently in Marathon; the other is Nenis, located just a block or so away. Lordi estimates that on a busy day be can do about 100 lunches.
Lordi’s food truck is currently located adjacent to Paradise Produce across from The Home Depot in Marathon. (It’s not actually a truck, but a concession trailer; more on that later.)
The law also requires the food truck or trailer to be removed from “public view” at the end of the business day. Cook said that part of the current law should stand.
“Trucks need to move at night and go away. A closed food truck doesn’t add to our community character or charm,” he said.
Lordi questions the logic.
“I just don’t understand the rationale,” Lordi said. “If it can be in public view during the hours of operation, what is the point of moving it when it’s closed? Do we take the things home with us? Pay rent on a second lot?”
That would mean extra effort for Lordi, because his concession trailer needs to be hooked up to a truck and towed away at night or moved into some type of garage or shelter.
Right now, the city’s licensing fee for mobile food vendors is $50 a year. It’s possible that might increase. Cook said a licensing fee of $1,000 is more appropriate. He also suggests the city amend its own code to allow for a concession stand at the beach. (The law says food trucks must be located on property with a permanent retail business without blocking vehicular or pedestrian traffic patterns.)
Right now, food trucks may not provide chairs or tables for patrons. To do so, the unit becomes more “permanent,” which can invoke different standards and require different licenses pertaining to public health. City of Marathon Planning Director George Garrett said that from the City’s perspective, “We would then consider it a restaurant and we would start looking at parking, wastewater, potable water, etc.”
In the past, the council has been adamant that food trucks should not compete with brick-and-mortar restaurants – which, the council points out, pay higher costs such as rent and taxes. Lordi doesn’t argue with that, but says it’s all commensurate.
“Restaurants have air conditioning and liquor licenses,” he said. “I can’t compete with that. Although my cost of operating a food truck is less than a restaurant, my profits are also scaled.”