Food truck owners gear up for busy year in James City County

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The Norfolk-based Karnage Asada is the first food truck to apply for a permit to operate regularly in York County. (Image courtesy of Karnage Asada)
The Norfolk-based Karnage Asada is now permitted to operate in James City County. (Image courtesy of Karnage Asada)

As the calendar flips to 2017, owners of local food trucks said they are excited by a new opportunity offered by James City County.

The county’s Board of Supervisors voted in November and December to pass resolutions that expanded the areas in which food trucks are permitted to operate.

Food trucks are now permitted to operate on land zoned as M-1 Limited Business/Industrial Zoning, M-2 General Industrial Zoning, PL Public Lands, B-1 General Business and PUD-C Planned Unit and Development-Commercial. Food trucks had previously been limited to serving customers strictly at private events within the county.

“I am so thankful that it has opened up the door for food trucks in the area to operate in those areas,” said Donna Oard, owner of the Karnage Asada food truck. “There was a big need for the locals for that law to be passed.”

TJ Cavaliero owns and operates the Suck on This BBQ food truck. Cavaliero said he spends his mornings as a cook at Paul’s Deli in New Town before taking his truck out to cater events. He said he has primarily operated in Richmond, Newport News and Hampton, and is excited to begin serving in James City County.

“You’ll probably see 10 new trucks pop up in James City County in the next year,” said Cavaliero.  “I look forward to serving all the people we couldn’t serve before.”

Chef Jim Kennedy (foreground) and sous-chef Garrett Bartlett (background) prepare food in the FoodaTude truck July 7. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
Chef Jim Kennedy (foreground) and sous-chef Garrett Bartlett (background) prepare food in the FoodaTude truck July 7. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)

James Kennedy, a former supervisor of James City County, opened his own food truck in July. He said that his Foodatude food truck business has thus far predominantly operated at breweries in York County and private events in the City of Williamsburg and James City County.

“It’s been a challenge with the county until now,” Kennedy said. “It’s nice to have that option and I think it’s a good thing. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

Kennedy said that while the food truck season will pick up in the spring, he’s been in contact with industrial parks and large employers within the county and hopes to offer lunch options to their workers.

Tim Harris, director of James City County’s Economic Development Authority, was in favor of the amendments to county code to allow food trucks. He said he believes the board’s decision will benefit the county and its residents.

“Food trucks are an important part of the ecosystem of a foodie destination,” said Harris. “It allows us to attract microbreweries, who benefit because they don’t have to put in a restaurant of their own… Food trucks go hand in hand with music festivals, arts events and are a part of a real necessary effort to make James City County attractive to families and younger professionals.”

While the Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance amendments unanimously and food truck operators are excited by the possibilities, some have expressed concern over what the changes could mean for traditional restaurants.

“I hope that as we experiment with food trucks through James City County, we will have an opportunity to get more input from restaurant owners and bricks and mortar restaurant owners to really understand what the impact is on their businesses,” real estate developer Chris Henderson said during a public hearing at the board’s December meeting. 

Henderson owns Courthouse Commons on Monticello Avenue, which is home to brick and mortar restaurants.  

“My fear is the food business is really a zero-sum game, because we’re not growing our population dramatically,” Henderson added. “Without additional new growth, we’re essentially carving up the pie in smaller pieces. As these businesses compete for smaller and smaller segments, it reduces their ability to pay rent, support overhead expenses and those things.”

County Administrator Bryan Hill said that he and his staff will monitor the impact food truck legislation has on brick and mortar restaurants.

“I don’t know what the outcome will be when it comes to dollars and cents,” said Hill. “My main concern will be to allow the brick and mortar to continue to thrive.”

“One thing that I’m proud of in James City County is the board uses analytics to make informed considerations,” he continued. “What my team does is provide our board with analytics and that’s the crux of any decision we make.”

Hill said that he will remain in contact with the county’s Commissioner of Revenue to see the breakdown of food sales for brick and mortar and business licenses for food trucks.

Carol Kennedy passes a plate to a customer July 7. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)
Carol Kennedy passes a plate to a Foodatude customer July 7. (Kirsten Petersen/ WYDaily)

While some food truck operators said they are aware of the concerns, Oard said she takes precautions to avoid harming brick and mortar businesses, such as avoiding using parking spaces that belong to restaurants.

“Karnage Asada has made it a point to not take away from restaurants,” Oard said. “We work together with restaurants. One of the things I really ask of a brewery is if there’s a neighboring restaurant, I’ll ask the brewery if they’ve made friends with the restaurant. That’s their neighbor. You want to make sure the restaurants in the nearby area are bringing in their business.”

The ordinance amendment stipulates that food trucks shall not operate within 100 feet of a traditional restaurant. Harris said that county zoning should prevent food trucks from impinging upon restaurants.

“On purpose we did not allow food trucks to park in downtown New Town, for instance,” Harris said.

Kennedy once owned and operated Dudley’s Bistro in New Town before closing it last spring. He said he does not believe food trucks will encroach upon brick and mortar businesses.

“I was in brick and mortar for a number of years and certainly I was concerned with it,” said Kennedy. “We don’t really compete with restaurants. We offer a different product. If you’re taking out your girlfriend, you’re not going to take her to a food truck. It’s not direct competition. It’s a different outlet and a different venue and I think it appeals to the younger crowd.”

Kennedy added, “Everybody is competing with everybody for that dollar. That’s called capitalism. When you own a food trucks, you’re a capitalist. You’re out there competing for that dollar like everyone else.”