Estimates of annual food truck revenue in the U.S. run as high as $1.2 billion, with an increase of 12.4 percent over the past five years, but you wouldn't know that driving around Sarasota. While food trucks pop up at farmers' markets, breweries and special events, they've so far failed to gain much daily traction.
That's in part due to restrictive local government rules. Sarasota County, for example, requires mobile food vendors to “obtain written, notarized consent” from any brick-and-mortar restaurants situated within 800 feet of where the truck will set up. For critics of the policies, such measures allow established eateries to put the brakes on potential competition from food trucks down the road.
But those rules could soon be headed to the shop for an overhaul. Next month, the Sarasota County Planning Commission is scheduled to discuss possible changes to the regulations, and according to past draft versions of staff recommendations, rules like the 800 foot separation rule could be eliminated.
To call attention to the need for repairs to the county's rules, the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, a consortium of local truckers, and the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian law firm, are throwing a party, with food, of course. SRQ's First Food Truck Rally runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, in the parking lot of The Devyn, 7113 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Participating trucks include Baja Boys, Ain't No Thang, Croz's Surf Shack and many more.
Chris Jett, the founder of the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, says he's pleased that the county is considering eliminating some of its regulations. But even if the Planning Commission approves the staff recommendations, he says, the rules could still stifle business. The proposed changes would require property owners to obtain permits to host food trucks, which Jett says could prove too costly. Jett—whose wife, Michelle Jett, operates the Baja Boys truck—would like to see trucks receive blanket permits that would allow them to set up wherever a property owner allows them. "We want to be on an even field," Jett says. "That's all we want. We don't want anything special."
This Saturday's event could help the public better understand the potential changes, plus give them an opportunity to sample top-quality mobile munchies. Sounds like fun.