Following the announcement of a lawsuit against the city, the Louisville Metro Council member who wrote the city’s food truck regulations back in 2011 said that he’d be willing to take another look at the ordinance governing where food truck owners can and cannot operate.
“We created the food truck law in the first place because it needed to be created. There wasn’t anything that governed it, and as we see in other things like Airbnb and Uber and Lyft and the sharing economy, new evolutions in business come around, and part of the city’s job is to come up with rules so we can have those things in our city,” said Councilman Brandon Coan (D-8), who at the time worked as a policy adviser for Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. “I think it makes sense to look at those things as time goes by to make sure it still works for everybody. I have no problem revisiting this or any of the other laws.”
Coan’s comment came after news broke that two Louisville food trucks were filing a federal lawsuit Wednesday that challenged the constitutionality of a city regulation, which states that food trucks may not operated within 150 feet of a restaurant that sells similar food. The lawsuit argues there should be no proximity ban related to brick and mortar restaurants.
Troy King, owner of POLLO, and Robert Martin, owner of Red’s Comfort Food, are working with the Virginia-based public interest law firm Institute for Justice to bring the case against Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.
“If I was POLLO – a gourmet chicken joint, the restaurant, and I opened up door to another restaurant, there is nothing they could do,” King told Insider. “There is nothing they could complain about, so what’s the difference.”
He added that in some places, Burger King and McDonald’s operate across the street from each other, but neither complain and there are no regulations preventing that.
Representatives with the Institute of Justice said they have not reached out to the city about possibly changing the food truck regulations.
Back in September 2016, King said his food truck was parked outside the PNC building downtown, and city officials told his employee that they needed to move the truck, stating that they were too close to Cravings a la Carte, a cafeteria-style restaurant that serves chicken, among many other offerings, inside the PNC building.
“I said ‘No, it’s been measured. We are not 150 feet within,’ ” he said, adding that the enforcement officials stated that the distance should be measured from the front doors of the PNC building, not the basement-level entrance to Cravings, which put the truck in violation. “At that time, I knew it was total bullying action.”
One of the reasons behind the lawsuit, said King and the attorneys with the Institute for Justice, is the fact that the city seems to have amped up action against the food trucks, including posting up “no food trucks” parking signs.
“The law and the enforcement has gotten worse over the past couple of years,” said Arif Panju, the lead attorney on the case for Institute for Justice. “The city has continually enforced this law at the behest of restaurants to kick truck owners out of vending locations where customers know where to find them, and that is simply an attempt to pick winners and losers.”
Even if a food truck is parked on private property, he said, the regulations allow for them to be kicked off the property if its within 150 feet of a similar restaurant.
In the lawsuit, the attorneys also take issue with the fact that if food trucks want to park near a brick and mortar restaurant that serves similar food, they have to get written permission from that restaurant, and the restaurant can revoke that permission at any time.
“Nobody should need their competitor’s permission to operate a businesses. Food trucks in Louisville are being forced to do just that,” Panju said, later adding: “That is economic protectionism; that is unconstitutional.”
Video by Peter Champelli
The Institute of Justice has won similar cases in San Antonio and El Paso, Texas. It recently lost a case in Chicago but is appealing the decision.
Martin, owner of Red’s Comfort Food and co-plaintiff in the case, said he’s been cited at least twice by the city and that he was being “harassed” any time he went out to sell his hotdogs and other food on the street. It ended up forcing Martin to move his operations out to the fairground.
“I would like to continue downtown because it affords a living for me and my employees,” he said. “I got to the point I had to say something. I feel like this city is about nepotism, cronyism and favoritism.”
King also stated that the regulations and increased enforcement have impacted his ability to operate and therefore his ability to hire and pay employees.
“I think a lot of people get the misnomer that food trucking is a hobby — it’s a business. We have hundreds of thousands of dollars in our business, no different than a restaurant,” King said.
Until news of the lawsuit broke, Coan said he’d not heard about any disputes between food trucks or restaurant owners, or any complaints about the regulations. Coan told media that he believes the regulations have been successful.
“I think the past six years or so, we have seen a lot of success. Certainly, food truck businesses have skyrocketed; several of them have created brick and mortar businesses that employ a lot of people and create a lot of tax revenue for the city and fed a lot of happy, hungry customers,” he said.
Coan added that there were concerns back when the regulations were drafted that a food truck would park outside a restaurant that sold similar food in an attempt to siphon business from the brick ad mortar establishment. One-hundred-and-fifty feet was determined to “a fair distance,” he said.
Numerous food trucks have backed POLLO and Red’s Comfort Food on Facebook seemingly as part of a campaign to support and publicize the case. The food truck owners indicating their support posted the statement below on their business and personal Facebook pages:
Other supporting food trucks include Get It On a Bun at Booty’s, Lexie Lu’s, La Chandeleur, Smok’N Cantina, Get in your Belly Deli, FlavaVille Food Truck, Boo Boo Smoke Shack and Louisville Sushi Truck.
Martin told Insider that it feels good to have the backing of his fellow food truck owners.
“We are not just doing this for us, we are doing it for other food truck owners, we are doing it for the industry as a whole,” he said.