As food trucks and street food become staples of music and beer festivals across Virginia, food truck operators say they’re finding more barriers to operating in the City of Williamsburg than surrounding localities.
The Big Bluesy, a two day music festival, was slated to host food trucks at the Shops at High Street before festival organizer Steve Rose reached out to the city to make sure the land use was legal for the Nov. 4 – 5 event.
It wasn’t, according to emails between Rose and city officials. Food trucks cannot operate on most private property in the city.
Rose said the city informed him that any changes in regulation wouldn’t come in time for the festival.
“They said it’s not going to be in time,” Rose said.
Currently, the city’s zoning ordinance allows for food trucks to operate on private property only in a special hospitality district created by city councilors in October 2016.
“If they’ve come to the conclusion that food trucks aren’t necessary anywhere but that small corridor, they won’t have food trucks,” said Jon Wade, owner of the Offbeat Eats food truck.
The city can’t issue a special event permit to allow food trucks at the Big Bluesy music festival because the land is privately owned — the permits can only be issued for events occurring on publicly owned land, according to city code and confirmed by City Manager Marvin Collins III.
In order for food trucks to operate at the Big Bluesy festival the city would have to change its laws, Collins said.
“Perhaps in the future there will be a different city code that will be more accommodating, but that will not be in place for this year,” Collins wrote in an email to Rose.
Food truck operators say they’re frustrated by the city’s regulations and how the laws impact their livelihoods.
“I can’t even cater with my truck in the city currently on private property,” said Jim Kennedy, operator of the FoodaTude…Food with Attitude food truck. That’s something he wants changed.
Kennedy, a former James City County Supervisor, said he’s been wary of operating in Williamsburg after his truck was ordered to move locations by the city on the 4th of July in Colonial Williamsburg.
“The fear is not knowing if you’ll be shut down,” Kennedy said.
Collins said the city had done everything it legally could to assist the event, but after Rose contacted the city Sept. 12 about the food trucks, there wasn’t enough time for councilors to change the city’s laws if they chose to do so.
Rose gave the city less than two months notice about food trucks for the festival, according to timestamps on emails sent between Rose and city officials. That’s just not enough time for the city to write and vet regulations, and bring them before the city council for a vote, according to Collins.
“We want this event to be successful,” City Manager Marvin Collins said. “We tried every way we could to find a solution for it. The solution would be to have food served through a catering license.”
Rose said the event will now be catered by restaurants near the Shops at High Street such as Plaza Azteca.
“Again, you’ve got a street festival but you can’t have any street food,” Kennedy said. “This was another big financial hit.”
The city has set up a committee to craft a more comprehensive food truck policy, Wade said.
The eight-person committee will have two food truck operators as members. Wade said he was asked to join the committee by Assistant City Manager Andrew Trivette.
The committee was discussed at the council’s Aug. 7 work session, according to city documents.
“It’s operating at a snail’s pace,” Wade said. “There haven’t been any meetings, and I haven’t been contacted as to when one will be.”