Council agrees to mobile food vendor program

Islamorada council members gave approval to language allowing mobile vending within the village during the March 5 meeting.

Last December, the dais showed interest in a two-year pilot program with a limited number of licenses in the village. As it stood before, the village’s ordinances contained no language regarding food trucks and other mobile vendors. Mobile vending is broken down into three categories: food trucks, which are mobile kitchens; canteen trucks, which sell premade food and aren’t subject to provisions; and food carts. Planner Megan Rumbaugh said canteen trucks are exempt from provisions of the resolution provided that vehicles are parked for a maximum of 15 minutes or less.

While the proposal stated that 15 licenses would be issued, council agreed to decrease that number to 10 with preference given to local food vendors during the initial three months of the program. After that, council would be able to revisit the license issuance and allow trucks outside the local area to apply and obtain a license.

“I think local food vendors should get a weighted application to where they get priority for a license first,” said Mayor Mike Forster.

Mobile food vendors will pay an upfront, $250 registration fee, and they’re also required to provide a list of approved locations within 30 days of registration. Food trucks would need to be 50 feet away from the outside of the right of way, and wouldn’t be able to sell or dispense food to mobile vehicles like a drive-through.

“You want these guys to be successful,” said Craig Belcher, Islamorada resident who owns Craig’s food truck. “You don’t want them smack on the road, but you want them visible.”

The pilot program prohibits use of Styrofoam and single-use plastics. Trucks aren’t permitted to operate in public rights of way, from MM 72-79.7 and in residential zoned properties and unapproved locations. Vendors would need to remove trash daily from where they’re operating, and they would not be able to use sound amplifiers, balloons or streamers.

While councilwoman Deb Gillis supported looking at a pilot program, she said she’s still not convinced it’s a good thing for local businesses.

“The local restaurants have to have their buildings, insurance and overhead that the mobile people don’t have,” she said. “They have different things and different expenses, but it’s not the same thing. “

Councilman Chris Sante said getting food from a mobile truck is like using a drive-through. “You grab the food and you go,” he said.

Chris Trentine, owner of Islamorada Brewery & Distillery, noted that people who frequent food trucks don’t necessarily go for breakfast, lunch or dinner, but rather something in between meal time. The brewery uses food trucks like A Moveable Feast on its property for people to enjoy with a drink.

“Honestly, if food trucks don’t partner with the right commercial place where there’s enough traffic, they won’t make it anyways,” he said. “They’re here to make money. If they don’t get in a well-established area, it will be hard for them.”

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