Davenport's first food truck ordinance goes into effect Saturday, and the set of new rules has spurred headaches and confusion for some vendors.
For starters, mobile food unit operators must complete an application, provide proof of $1 million in liability insurance, show proof of a valid Scott County Health Department permit and pass an inspection performed by Davenport Fire Department personnel.
Last week, owners of the popular grilled cheese truck Static Melt announced on social media they would not reopen this year because of equipment requirements set in place by the Fire Department.
Among other upgrades, mobile vendors must install a commercial-grade exhaust hood and a fire extinguishing system.
Owners of the 1979 GMC Vandura declined to comment any further on their decision but referred to their post on Facebook.
"For us, this is not only cost prohibitive, but the installation would prevent anyone from being able to stand up inside the truck," they wrote.
Austin Mills, owner of Floyd's Burgers and Sliders, said he spent $5,000 in December to bring his 1978 Winnebago up to code.
“The fire chief told us what we would eventually need, so I figured I’d get it done early,” said Mills, of Eldridge.
The 29-year-old Mills expressed frustration earlier this week on his business' Facebook page about Davenport's rules for vendors who operate on private property. He said he deleted the post once he learned all the facts.
Every food truck, cart or trailer must purchase a $55 one-year license before setting up shop anywhere in Davenport, including private parking lots, parks and on the street in front of a business.
If a business wants to host a food truck in its lot, the property owner simply must notify the city where the unit will operate, Mallory Merritt, assistant to the city administrator, said.
“We just want to know where the kitchen is going to be located for public safety purposes,” said Merritt, who stressed businesses do not need to identify the visiting vendor or list any specific dates.
Merritt said property owners can contact her directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She said messages can read "as simple as, 'Hey, this is going to be on the south side of the building.'"
Mills, who parked his food truck in 10 to 15 private lots last fall, said he initially thought businesses had to file more paperwork than is expected.
If businesses want vendors to set up in the public right-of-way, that is where things get a little more sticky.
In that case, property owners must:
• Fill out a "special occurrence" application.
• Pay a $100 fee.
• List all dates/times a vendor will be present on the street.
Once the city receives the application, all businesses within 200 feet of the establishment will be notified, and city officials will calculate any "protest rate."
The application then will go before the City Council for final approval at a regularly scheduled meeting.
This could affect businesses such as Great River Brewery, which regularly hosts food trucks on East 2nd Street near the corner of Iowa Street.
Andrew Jay Larson, manager of the bar, called the new process “time consuming,” but he said they will apply for a special permit so mobile food vendors can operate on the south side of their property.
“We are going to pay to make sure we have people right outside here for our events,” said Larson, who is "all for" the city's other regulations. “It will keep everybody safe.”
Meanwhile, vendors who want to operate on the street must pay $550 for an annual permit on top of the $55 license. Those who wish to sell food at a park or within one of the city's designated mobile food unit zones also must purchase the additional permit.
Beginning next week, vendors with the required credentials may begin working within the city's two zones:
• Riverfront/Main Street Landing: City-owned parking lot south of West River Drive, west of South Brady Street and east of Dillon Fountain near the skybridge (6 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday).
• East 2nd Street/Iowa Street: Parking lane on East 2nd Street, east of Iowa Street; and the east parking lane on Iowa Street, south of East 2nd Street (3-11 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday).
Speaking for Great River Brewery, Larson said they are "fortunate" to be close to the East 2nd Street/Iowa Street zone.
"That’s part of why it hasn’t been much of a concern," he said.
Chad Cushman, better known as The Crepe Guy for his pop-up restaurant, called Davenport's ordinance, which he helped develop, "fair" and "solid."
"At the end of the day, compared to a brick-and-mortar (restaurant), it's very inexpensive," said Cushman, who organized the Quad-Cities Independent Food Truck Alliance. "I'm pretty proud of it, and I feel like we should stand behind it."
As of Tuesday, Merritt said the city had received "several" applications from individual vendors but no special occurrence applications. In total, she said she has been in contact with about 30 mobile food unit vendors.
Before crafting the ordinance, Merritt said she visited Des Moines twice to study its food truck program and researched many others "from here to California."
"We tried to take the best of everything and make it as easy for vendors as possible, while making sure we preserve that public safety component of it," she said.