Since The Hungry Pug food truck was launched in May, father and son duo Scott and Sam Coelln have served their grilled cheese across the Historic Triangle, stopping often at hotspots like Alewerks, Billsburg and Virginia Beer Company.
Despite serving up his cheese-filled menu six nights most weeks, Scott Coelln said he’s only worked one day in the City of Williamsburg, for a special event with William & Mary.
“I don’t avoid Williamsburg but it’s really hard to do anything in the city without being [allowed] on private property,” Coelln said.
The code of the City of Williamsburg currently restricts the operation of food trucks to special events on public property, and in the Culinary Arts District on Capital Landing Trail which is largely populated by hotels and motels.
“The area the city has designated before was ridiculous,” said FoodaTude…Food with Attitude owner Jim Kennedy. “There’s no reason to go there. There’s nobody there.”
As a result, Coelln said he most often parks his truck in the surrounding counties, where trucks are permitted to operate in a wider territory.
A food truck work group appointed by City Council came up with a set of recommended changes to the policy that interim City Manager Andrew Trivette presented to the Planning Commission in October.
The recommendations, which are still up for review and would need final approval from City Council, include changes that would free up food trucks to operate on some land in downtown, in the Midtown area and in and around High Street.
Coelln said expanding the areas where trucks can serve will open up possibilities for his business – if nothing else, it will give mobile kitchens more options than they currently have.
“The Capital Landing area, I don’t know how much potential that has unless the food is so off the chain that you have to have it,” he said.
A proposed 100-foot buffer that would limit the operation of food trucks around existing downtown restaurants was also proposed, as one of the work group’s directives was to develop a policy that promoted a fair and competitive environment for food trucks and restaurants alike.
Kennedy said he would like to see the city relax its restrictions as he doesn’t see food trucks as direct competitors to restaurants – while they’re both food purveyors he said trucks provide a quick bite while restaurants provide a sit-down dining experience, and customers themselves can determine which best meets their needs.
“Do I want to park in front of the Blue Talon? No, that doesn’t make sense for me or them,” Kennedy said. “The Fat Canary and Foodatude are two totally different entities. It’s like someone saying, ‘Gee, they built a McDonald’s across the street from Fat Canary, and that’s going to take business away from Fat Canary.’”
Jon Wade served on the food truck work group, and as the owner of both the Two Drummers Smokehouse brick and mortar restaurant and its associated food truck he said he understands the concerns expressed by restaurant owners about the placement of food trucks.
He expressed overall optimism for the changes being considered but said there is room for improvement in the special event process, adding he wasn’t sure if the proposals go far enough to make Williamsburg a food truck hub.
“There’s still going to be some hurdles,” Wade said. “There’s going to be some growing pains and I think there will be a few successes for food trucks, but more success for the area. Which is good, but they’re going to have to find another way to make it more successful for food trucks, make it enticing to make food trucks want to come here.”