I don’t think there is any question that the City of Decatur leaders will have to take a closer look at zoning rules that keep food trucks from parking in downtown Decatur. Over the lunch hour last Thursday, Romano Co., which owns the Millikin Court Building at 132 South Water Street (where our newspaper offices are located), offered a complimentary lunch to workers in the building at the Notorious P.I.G. BBQ and More food truck that was parked behind the building. Those who wanted the free meal had to get the tickets at Romano Co.’s office on the first floor. I got tickets for myself and office staff and decided to go down to the food truck a few minutes after the food became available.
There was already a steady stream of the building’s employees who were getting their free lunch. I also noticed a sign on the sidewalk that indicated the food truck was for a private party — meaning it was not making cash sales to anyone. You had to present a ticket to get the meal. Originally, the food truck at our building was scheduled to be in the parking lot behind the building, and the gesture by Romano Co. was to be in connection with the ribbon cutting for the food truck’s business by the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce.
After the ceremony, it was expected that those who didn’t work in our building and didn’t have a free ticket, could buy food at the menu prices. The ribbon cutting that was to take place downtown on Thursday was moved to Thursday evening at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel on the west side of Decatur and out of the downtown area.
The feedback that I received from those I talked with who work in our building was the lunch they received was really great. I also found that to be true in the food truck meal I brought back to my office. My food truck experience on Thursday was extremely positive.
• AS I indicated at the beginning of this column, the city council will have to take a closer look at the zoning laws and rules that need to be revised so that food trucks (under certain guidelines) will be able to have a presence in the downtown area. These food truck businesses, for the most part, are being operated by entrepreneurs who have already found a solid market in Decatur by giving the public a great product and service. They are not going away anytime soon — and they should not be kept away from potential markets.
• I CERTAINLY CAN understand downtown restaurant owners who are concerned about the impact of food trucks on their brick and mortar businesses, but, if the trucks bring even more people downtown, they could also generate more people coming downtown to see what’s going on here — which would benefit the restaurants, too. At any rate, we live in changing times and trends and food trucks are here to stay, based on their success in some of our new venues away from downtown, such as the Devon Amphitheatre in Nelson Park.
I believe zoning changes need to be made, along with responsible ordinances that also protect the established bricks and mortar restaurants downtown. The City of Decatur needs to get going on dealing with the changing ways that people are eating out in the downtown area.
• SEVERAL years ago, during the time I served as mayor, there was a call for food carts to be able to operate in Central Park and in other parts of downtown. I remember we voted on a specific set of ordinances for those who wanted to operate food carts and, for a few years those who worked, or came downtown could buy lunch from a food cart vendor.
A woman who operated a food cart on the west side of Central Park attracted several customers. She did business there for several summers. I bought lunch there from time to time on my way back from the post office and took it back to the office with me to eat. Others bought their lunch and ate in the park while they watched the fountain.
There were a few other food carts that operated in Central Park, but they didn’t lasted more than one season. I also remember a food cart vendor on the southwest corner of Main and Water streets, but it didn’t last long either. There was also one other cart that that was on North Water Street near William Street. All have now disappeared and the food cart business, except for special events, has disappeared.
It’s far different with the food trucks. They represent a heavy investment, a very appealing menu and are definitely in demand by the public. They are part of the changing era we’re in and the city council must make sure to work with their owners.