Berkshire towns consider food truck regulations

Saturday December 1, 2012

Food trucks haven't taken a foothold with foodie fanatics in the Berkshires as they have in other parts of the nation, such as cities like Los Angeles. However, town officials up and down the county have heard from the occasional food truck entrepreneur who see the potential, and that has some towns contemplating wholesale ordinances to regulate them.

Food trucks are "beyond a fad," said Manny Serrano, the health department director in North Adams. Food trucks are mobile kitchens, serving up to-go fare to folks who seek them out at curbside or in parking lots.

Serrano recently worked with Mexican food truck "El Coche Taco Co." -- translated from Spanish to The Taco Truck -- to operate out of North Adams.

"Food trucks have TV shows about [them]. The interest is there and quite honestly some can be very good -- some can be exceptionally good," Serrano said.

The popular Asian-fusion Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, for example, rolled out in 2008 in Los Angeles offering a fusion blend of tacos with a Korean twist and has built a following of 101,000 Twitter followers tracking its presence throughout Southern California. These oftentimes-decorated vans serve food through a simple window and often do marketing and announce their locations through social media. Food trucks can sell genres of food or artisan or specialty food favorites, such as a grilled cheese sandwich.

Depending on what town though, food trucks will be met with different regulations that control how food can be sold.

On Dec. 10, the Board of Selectman in Great Barrington will discuss whether it's legal for a food truck to operate within the town.

Williamstown had a food truck, the "El Conejo Corredor" -- translated from Spanish into The Running Rabbit, that would draw a flock of hungry folks, but then it was sold to the restaurant Mezze Inc. and hasn't been seen around town since.

In Massachusetts, food trucks are regulated by public health guidelines that require food to be prepared in a restaurant, but can then be sold from a truck, Williams town Health Inspector Jeff Kennedy said.

Food trucks need to receive health, safety and distribution licenses -- standards similar to restaurants -- but then it falls on town ordinances to decide whether they are able to operate.

Serrano said North Adams police regulate where food trucks can park. The Health Department regulates the food safety, hawker-peddler license and mandatory certificates.

Similar to restaurants, food trucks -- Serrano identified three in North Adams -- are inspected twice a year, unless a complaint is filed, which would lead to an immediate follow-up investigation.

The North Adams City Council has been drafting an ordinance, but Serrano said that there has been some resistance by local restaurants on what the ordinance should say.

"We're trying to appease everyone," Serrano said. "We're trying to make it fair for everyone."

In Great Barrington, Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell said that the town is collecting information for the Dec. 10 meeting. The town's zoning does not allow any business to operate unless they're specifically outlined in the ordinance, but he said that these trucks could possibly be permitted on land owned by the town. The Great Barrington Board of Selectman will discuss it in further detail at the upcoming meeting.

Williamstown, a college town that would seem prime for a food truck, hasn't been approached by a business since the Mexican food truck "El Conejo Corredor," Town Planner Andrew Groff said.

The truck was run by 2011 Williams College graduate Brian Cole.

Groff said between the local theater festival, regular tourists, and "great vibe during the summertime," he is surprised that others haven't taken an interest.

Following a review of the town zoning ordinance, Groff said that town officials agreed that food trucks are allowed to be on the street.

"It's not regulated by zoning because it's simply a truck," Groff said. "It's not land use. It's not attached to a piece of property. We didn't think that it could be regulated by zoning."

Serrano, of North Adams, said that it is important for customers to make sure that the food truck has a food safety and distribution license.

There is concern from North Adams officials that too many food trucks could congregate in a single area.

However, he also added, "the idea of the food truck is fun, simple and easy. It's something on the go."


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