Friday, August 12, 2022

Food truck owners say Carolina Beach is restricting their businesses

Mark Wilson, owner of Holy Smoke (that's) BBQ can only be seen from inside Good Hops Brewing rather than from the road due to code requirements in Carolina Beach he feels are restrictive. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)
Mark Wilson, owner of Holy Smoke (that’s) BBQ can only be seen from inside Good Hops Brewing rather than from the road. He said that is  due to code requirements in Carolina Beach that he feels are restrictive. (Port City Daily photo / JOHANNA FEREBEE)

CAROLINA BEACH — Food on wheels. A pretty harmless (as long as it’s sanitary) concept that has tensions flared across the bridge.

If you happen to find yourself inside Good Hops Brewing in Carolina Beach, you may catch a glimpse of Holy Smoke (that’s) BBQ’s mobile storefront. If you’re on Dow Road, it’ll look like the back of any other trailer.

Mark Wilson, owner of Holy Smoke (that’s) BBQ occasionally operates as a catering vendor in the Good Hops Brewing parking lot. In Wilmington, he operates as a verified food truck.

He chooses to face his mobile food business away from the well-traveled road in order to remain within operating limits of the town code. 

“There is no ordinance in Carolina Beach for food trucks; only an ice cream ordinance,” Wilson said. “If there is not an ordinance, it is not allowed.”

What’s the code say?

Food truck owners feel Carolina Beach’s municipal code was written to intentionally limit and restrict their business on the island, while Carolina Beach’s senior planner says there was nothing intentional about it. In fact, the code that directs food truck business wasn’t written with food trucks in mind.

“The itinerary merchant (code) was guided while we were accommodating a certain type of business that wasn’t a food truck,” said Jeremy Hardison, senior planner for Carolina Beach.

In consideration of the food truck owner’s complaints, Hardison admits the town did not create the most straightforward guidelines.

“There’s no way I’m going to be there 180 days consecutively. That’s pretty limiting,” Cummings said. “It’s a food truck for god’s sake.”

“We did have some forethought thought in thinking, ‘OK if someone wanted to have a food truck, how would this be impacted?'” he said.

“This code was written for Tony Silvagni Surf School,” Hardison said. “He wanted to rent umbrellas and beach chairs. In order to do that we had to create an allowance for it.”

The itinerary merchant permit application requirements guide mobile food vendors in Carolina Beach, not including special event exceptions. Some limitations to the itinerary merchant code include:

  • Operations shall be limited to 180 consecutive days per calendar year
  • No more than one itinerant merchant (food truck) shall be located on a lot
  • The itinerant merchant must maintain a brick and mortar in Carolina Beach for one year
  • The itinerant merchant is limited to the same menu options as the brick and mortar
  • The hours of the itinerant merchant must operate in the same hours of the brick and mortar

Hardison says the historical thought process of the town has been to emphasize business on the island.

“The direction from council as far as food tucks in the past has been they did not want it to be seen as competition for your brick and mortar businesses,” he said. “We would not let an outsider come over the bridge and set up shop when they’re not an existing business.”

Street Treats co-owner John Cummings would rather operate his food truck business in Wilmington to avoid ordinances he sees as limiting. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY OF STREET TREATS)
Street Treats co-owner John Cummings would rather operate his food truck business in Wilmington to avoid ordinances he sees as limiting. (Port City Daily photo / COURTESY OF STREET TREATS)

However, food truck owners with brick and mortar locations on the island still feel the standing limitations aren’t conducive to their business operations.

“They could apply for a zoning text amendment,” Hardison said. “We would bring it up to council, let them discuss it, with the guidance from the establishment we would draft an ordinance for them to consider.”

With town council-elect JoDan Garza and mayor-elect Joe Benson set to be sworn into office Dec. 12, Hardison said a change in attitude could guide any potential change.

“There are pathways,” he said. “Staff is not just going to arbitrarily change an ordinance.”

Backward code?

After serving as a paramedic and firefighter, Wilson appreciates people in public service. Still, he feels code that limits his operation of the mobile arm of his Holy Smoke (that’s) BBQ business is a form of preferential treatment.

“It’s almost like some of those ordinances on the island have been done to protect business on the island,” Wilson said. “Predominantly theirs (town staff).”

In regard to the food truck limitations, Wilson asks, “Who is that really protecting?”

Wilson, along with Good Hops Brewing co-owner Rich Jones, decided against signing the itinerary merchant agreement.

“We didn’t turn it in,” Wilson said. “It’s restrictive of them.”

Instead, he chooses to operate as a special events caterer and faces his mobile business away from the road.

City treats

John Cummings helps run Pop’s Diner’s mobile food truck, Street Treats. As co-owner of the food truck, he also chose against signing an itinerary merchant agreement.

“There’s no way I’m going to be there 180 days consecutively. That’s pretty limiting,” Cummings said. “It’s a food truck for god’s sake.”

The state of North Carolina grants mobile food units licenses that permit operators to conduct business anywhere within the state as long as they are able to return to a base location on the same day.

“I have a permit to operate in North Carolina,” Cummings said.

Instead of working with the code he sees as restrictive, Cummings would rather drive the Street Treats food truck across the bride where business is less complicated.

“In my opinion, we’ll just go operate in Wilmington,” he said. “I don’t want to jump through hoops.”

“They just don’t want food trucks on the island at all from what I’m gathering,” he said. “It’s kind of bogus really to me.”

This article has been updated to reflect a corrected quote.


Johanna Ferebee can be reached at johanna@localvoicemedia.com or @j__ferebee on Twitter

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