Thursday, March 23, 2023

So you want to start a food truck biz, eh? Here’s what you need to know before starting that engine

The Hungry Pug food truck, parked outside Alewerks. (WYDaily/ Andrew Harris)
The Hungry Pug food truck, parked outside Alewerks. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily)

Food trucks can be found all over the Historic Triangle — or at least in certain areas.

There are designated locations in which food trucks are allowed to operate, and other spots where they are not permitted.

Permitting for food trucks varies by locality. The rules governing food trucks are different for James City County, York County and the City of Williamsburg.

Food truck operators need to be independently approved by each locality before they can start serving food within their legal limits.

Ever thought about opening a food truck of your own? Here’s what you need to do in order to operate your mobile food business in each community:

James City County

Those seeking to open a food truck in James City County must first apply for a mobile food vending permit through the county’s Zoning Department, said Christy Parrish, zoning administrator for the county.

That permit requires several other permits and approvals, including a valid permit from the Virginia Department of Health and written consent of the owner of the properties where the food truck vendors intend to operate.

The county also requires food truck operators to have their truck inspected by the Fire Marshal each year.

Fire Marshal Kenny Driscoll said if the mobile kitchen will be emitting grease-laden fumes, they are required to have a hood system which hangs over the cooking surface. Vendors are required to carry two different types of portable fire extinguishers. Inspectors also make sure propane bottles are secured properly and look for other fire hazards.

The mobile food vending zoning permit is valid for one year and may be applied for online. Once issued the food truck operator may then apply for a business license, the county’s Business Tax Auditor Karen Killiam said. Here is how to apply for a business license in James City County.

Health permits and business licenses must be displayed on the vehicle, according to county code.

The county’s Board of Supervisors approved food trucks in November 2016, allowing mobile kitchens to operate in areas zoned for commercial, industrial and public uses. A map of places food trucks can operate is included below. No trucks are allowed within 100 feet of a restaurant or residence.

Food trucks are allowed to operate within the colored regions of James City County. (WYDaily/ Courtesy James City County)
Food trucks are allowed to operate within the colored regions of James City County. (WYDaily/ Courtesy James City County)

York County

The process is much the same for York County; however, food trucks are not required to be inspected by the fire department, said Alan Turner, assistant chief for York County’s Fire and Life Safety.

Instead, Turner said the department does issue courtesy safety checks for larger events. At one recent event Turner said a food truck did not have a fire extinguisher, so he insisted the operator buy one before operating the kitchen.

Food trucks operating within York County must also apply for a business license and a health permit before receiving the administrative permit from the zoning department, said Dina Goode, Zoning and Code Enforcement supervisor. Applicants can email photos of the health permit to the zoning office in order to save time.

“If they have those two things, they’re here 10 minutes tops,” she said.

The operators also need to include written permission from each location where they intend to sell food, but Goode added that if a vendor adds a new location after applying, they need only to carry written permission from the property owner on their truck.

Food trucks are only permitted on commercial and industrially-zoned land.


Just like in the surrounding counties, Williamsburg requires food truck operators to maintain a health permit, a business license, and written permission from the property owner.

The city also requires a valid driver’s license for the truck’s owner and proof of motor vehicle inspection and insurance.

Unlike the surrounding counties, food trucks must be approved every single time they serve within city limits.

Unless operating under a special event hosted by a third party on public land, food trucks are limited to operating in the culinary arts district along Capital Landing Road.

Attending special events has proved difficult at times for food trucks. Three food trucks were removed from Duke of Gloucester Street in 2017 after Colonial Williamsburg failed to file a Special Event Permit for their July 4th fireworks show.

Food trucks were also not allowed to operate during the Big Blues Festival in High Street as the property was privately owned.

The city has formed a food truck committee to steer the policy. The committee recently made recommendations, which were presented to the city’s Planning Commission last week by Interim City Manger Andrew Trivette.

City spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said it could be two months before any changes to the code reach City Council for approval.

“Change is coming,” Trivette said. “I think it’s going to make it easier.”

Read what food truck operators say about the business in the next installment of WYDaily’s look at the mobile food enterprise.

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