MANATEE -- When most people think of fast food, they envision running under the golden arches to grab a quick meal. But many restaurateurs are changing the to-go food scene by going mobile and using food trucks.
Cash Shelton, the franchisee of the Freddy's burgers and custard locations in Bradenton, Sarasota and Ocala, launched his Freddy's food truck last week. He approached his corporate bosses with the idea and he said they told him to run with it, as long as he was comfortable investing his own money. Shelton's dad provided the necessary funding to start the Freddy's food truck.
"We decided to do it to help promote awareness of the Freddy's brand," Shelton said. "We felt the best way is to get the food out there in front of people. We plan on participating in a lot of events and using it as a test location for future stores."
Shelton's territory ranges from Fort Myers to Ocala, excluding Tampa.
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Between 2010 and 2015, the number of licensed food trucks operating in Florida increased by 58 percent, according to data collected by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. In the district encompassing Manatee, Sarasota and eight other counties, the number of food trucks grew from 151 in 2010 to 256 in 2015.
In 2014, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce added a "food trucks" category to its membership rolls because several food truck operators had joined the chamber. Three of the four chamber members in the food truck category are based in Bradenton and the other is in Palmetto.
The Freddy's food truck visited downtown Bradenton last week to thank the Manatee Chamber of Commerce for its support. Matt Gilbert has worked near downtown Bradenton since 2012 and said he enjoys the variety occasionally brought by food trucks.
"You have regulars like Jimmy John's and O'Brick's, but it's nice when food trucks come in because when you work in downtown you never get out," Gilbert said.
But the Freddy's food truck, or any food truck for that matter, won't revisit downtown unless they find suitable private property, work out an arrangement with the property's owner and receive the correct permit from Bradenton.
According to the city's event manual, food trucks or any other food preparation devices are not allowed on city property unless they are part of a larger event. For example, the Freddy's food truck attended and served at the Bradenton Area River Re
gatta this year.
And though food truck operators often have to sort through the various rules and regulations different cities have about where they can park and conduct business, food trucks are often a more affordable option for restaurateurs and entrepreneurs, especially if they have a new style of cuisine to introduce.
"Restaurants are so expensive to open," said Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association. "Then you have the moneyed interest problem in restaurants. Let's say you have a lot of money and you want to invest in me and I say let's do Korean fusion tacos. You say, I'm not giving you a million to do something crazy."
Food trucks can also turn innocuous spaces into public squares, Geller said, and customers enjoy the socialization benefit while grabbing a meal on the go.
Geller's association reaches out to other regional food truck associations to help them navigate the sometimes murky waters of food truck regulations. He also volunteered to help cities rewrite codes and regulations to allow for food trucks. A few times, Geller has worked with cities whose regulations ban food trucks from parking within 100 feet of a restaurant. When he meets with officials in these situations, one basic principle guides his case:
"My argument is a really simple one; protect public health and protect public safety," Geller said. "It's the most important thing. Don't mess with or try to fix the market."
Janelle O'Dea, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095 or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.