Meal on Wheels: Jackson’s New Food Truck Ordinance Begins to Pick Up Steam

EDM February March 2013 covereat.drink.MISSISSIPPI
February / March 2013
Article and photos

Over the last few years, food trucks have seen an almost cult-like resurgence in popularity.  They have evolved from the old-fashioned pre-made hamburgers and sandwiches to gourmet fare often prepared right on sight in a mobile kitchen.  In major metropolitan areas all over the country, a seemingly normal street corner becomes a lunch hot spot as nearby patrons line up to grab a quick meal curbside.  A few hours later, the truck has rolled on and it’s business as usual.

Food trucks require less capital and overhead costs than traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants.  Therefore, they are a less costly way to break into the food industry and can provide a boost to local economies.  However, the question of whether or not to allow food trucks to operate within a metro area is one that is frequently debated.   That’s because without regulation, food trucks can pose an unfair advantage over restaurants.   In 2011, the City of Jackson passed its first food truck ordinance allowing vendors to sell food curbside.  The new ordinance does carry some restrictions to prevent unfair practices and holds food trucks accountable to the same food safety requirements that restaurants do.  A $500 annual permit allows vendors to set up shop at one predetermined location within the Jackson city limits.  The vendors must either have a kitchen subject to approval by the state Department of Health either inside the truck or at an offsite location.  Operators also cannot serve food within 150 feet of a brick-and-mortar food establishment.

Since the ordinance was established, a few mobile food vendors have begun to spring up in the area.  Earlier in 2012, Fred’s Franks began selling hot dogs and chips three days a week from a push cart in Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  Followers of the local farmer’s market and festival circuit have likely been introduced to Garden to Fire’s innovative mobile wood-burning brick oven used bake fresh, handmade gourmet pizzas.

This past November, Jackson saw the arrival of its first traditional food truck.  Lauren Davis, owner of Lurny D’s Grille, and his crew set up shop on the corner of West and Amite Streets in front of Smith Park in downtown Jackson.  A self-taught cook and grillmaster, Davis started to seriously consider starting his own food truck shortly after the ordinance passed.  Typically, every weekday from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., Lurney D’s serves up freshly grilled gourmet hamburgers and hand cut French fries right from the sliding glass windows of their psychedelic, brightly colored blue and orange truck.  Occasionally, LurnyD’s will cater a private event, but fans can keep up with their whereabouts through social media.

The presence of food trucks brings more to a metropolitan area than delicious food.  Since they can set up shop virtually anywhere, they have the ability to bring more food choices to residents and workers in areas where traditional restaurants do not yet have a presence.   Food trucks allow those that live and work within an area to feel more engaged with each other and their city.  They can also bring life to places that are otherwise low-traffic.  Such is the case during one unseasonably warm day at Smith Park.  Rather than taking lunch back to the office, many patrons can be found sitting on benches throughout the park eating their lunches, enjoying the fresh air, and engaging in conversations with each other.

There are a few challenges to working in a mobile kitchen.  The obvious being cramped working conditions.  Combine that with a hot grill and a fryer and it can feel like working in a sauna despite the temperature outside.  Davis and his crew have also had to deal with a few minor unexpected issues that  a typical restaurants owner isn’t likely  to run into, like flat tires and food orders getting blown around on a windy day.

Overall, however, Davis days the response to his food truck has been very positive.  “We’ve had a lot of repeat customers,” he says.  “We are also getting a bunch of new followers on our social media sites.”  He hopes his success will pave the way for more local entrepreneurs who are considering taking the plunge into the food truck industry.