Cravings Blog

Food truck regulations still better in Manatee than Sarasota

Diners line up at a Freddy’s Steakburgers food truck during a visit the truck made to downtown Bradenton in February. The truck was only stopped for one day and doesn’t have a place to come back to because of the City of Bradenton regulations surrounding food trucks.
Diners line up at a Freddy’s Steakburgers food truck during a visit the truck made to downtown Bradenton in February. The truck was only stopped for one day and doesn’t have a place to come back to because of the City of Bradenton regulations surrounding food trucks.

This week, Sarasota County passed an ordinance to allow food trucks better business opportunities. And Chris Jett, founder of the SRQ Food Truck Alliance, is ecstatic about the rule changes.

Now, food trucks in Sarasota pay an annual fee to roam unincorporated county areas to find the best places to park and serve food. Food truck operators still have to obtain permission from the property owner. The current process is simpler and less cumbersome than one outlined in previous regulations passed in 2011.

Jett said the ordinance is progress, but Sarasota County’s food truck regulations still aren’t as open as Manatee County’s.

2 maximum number of food trucks parked next to each other in Sarasota County

For example, food trucks cannot park on undeveloped Sarasota County property, as they can in Manatee. Only two trucks can be parked beside one another, but in Manatee County, no such restriction exists. And in Sarasota County, food trucks are only allowed on private property and not public property, such as a park or public parking lot.

In Manatee, the rules allow for more “free roaming,” said Jett, who owns the Baja Boys Grill food truck along with his wife.

Manatee County is not entirely without rules for food trucks: They cannot park in the county right of way and must be parked on active commercial property with permission from the property owner. They also can’t have a permanent power supply, because they’re then classified as a restaurant.

Municipalities are a different animal, as food trucks face different regulations or bans in certain cities. The City of Bradenton, for example, does not allow food trucks on any of its streets or in parking lots unless they’re permitted for a special event.

City of Bradenton spokesman Tim McCann said he hadn’t heard much from the Bradenton City Council in the two days since Sarasota County’s ordinance passed. He has heard from several citizens in the past few months inquiring about the city’s food truck rules. In the coming months, McCann expects the Bradenton City Council to at least discuss it.

“With the new planning and development director (Catherine Hartley), they’re pretty much reviewing everything,” McCann said.

In the past, Sarasota food trucks had to obtain a signed and notarized copy of permission from the property owner. They had to draw up a site plan and specify where they planned to park the truck. Next, if any restaurant was located within 800 feet of the truck’s planned parking spot, the food truck’s owner had to get permission, signed and notarized, from the restaurant owner.

There are less (health department) violations by mobile vendors compared to restaurants. Think about it: what is left in a truck when you're done at night? You don’t freeze anything and make everything fresh that day and then you're done. The whole goal of a food truck is to run out of food.

Chris Jett, founder of SRQ Food Truck Alliance and co-owner of Baja Boys Grill food truck

Finally, all of the documentation and permit and document fees, which totaled approximately $280, were submitted to the Sarasota County Commission for approval. The last step often took four to six months, Jett said. The one-year Sarasota County license required under the new ordinance carries a $140 application fee.

Manatee County has no such fee for food trucks.

“Those are typically start-up, shoestring type of businesses,” Manatee County development review specialist Robert Sweeney said. “We want to make it as business-friendly as possible for those folks.”

Sweeney said he and other building and development services staff direct food truck operators to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for proper state licensing and inspection procedures.

Restricting a food truck’s moving and parking plans makes it difficult to be successful.

“So I would have to pay for each individual spot, so the whole business model of a food truck was gone,” Jett said. “The thing is you would pay for each individual spot and what if that spot didn’t work for you?”

The new Sarasota County ordinance now enables food trucks to roam more freely.

With a more open atmosphere for food trucks in Sarasota County, Jett invites all food truck operators to join the SRQ Food Truck Alliance. But now that Sarasota County is more inviting for the food truck industry, all regulatory eyes are on them, he said.

“They can join (the alliance) as long as they are a legal food truck and follow laws and rules,” Jett said.

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday

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