Houston Food Trucks Ask For Less Regulation

The industrial kitchen behind Kraftsmen Cafe in the Heights.
Houston food truck owners want City Hall to ease up on regulations that make it difficult for them to operate in certain areas.

 

 

In the huge industrial kitchen behind Kraftsmen Cafe in the Heights, several food truck owners rent space to prep and cook their specialties.

Among them is Joe Phillips. He runs Oh My! Pocket Pies, which opened in 2009, a lifetime ago in the food truck industry. He started his business thinking he'd capitalize on the lunch crowd downtown.  

But he soon found out that was illegal.

"We are not allowed in downtown, which is a District of Limitation 1. There's also another District of Limitation 2, which is the medical center. We would never be allowed in the medical center, which is understandable — it's private property and it's a highly trafficked area, so there's no way we would be there. But downtown is one of the places that we're trying to fight to be in."

Several years ago, city council enacted a number of regulations on the food truck industry. They're not allowed downtown, unless the truck's equipment runs on electricity rather than propane.

Outside of downtown, propane trucks aren't allowed to park within 60 feet of each other, they can't set up near any tables or chairs and they're not allowed to park on public streets. Oh, and there also must be public restrooms nearby.  

Phillips says all these rules make it very difficult for food truck entrepreneurs.

"It's not clear black and white anywhere you look up the regulations and rules, so you have to find out on your own. And that's how we did, it was trial and error. We found out about these rules and regulations by actually being a food truck operator/owner ourselves and finding out that we're not allowed in certain places, we can't do certain things, we can't be at certain locations. So after that, it's like pulling an onion apart layer by layer, finding more and more things that made it so difficult to operate."

The food truck scene has exploded in Houston, since the days when Phillips started his business. A drive through Montrose or the Heights will take you past trucks that serve everything from Indian food to cupcakes.  

Amalia Pferd is one of the owners of Good Dog food truck, a gourmet hot dog truck. She says they knew about the regulations and tried to build a truck they could operate downtown.

Pferd and Phillips
Joe Phillips runs Oh My! Pocket Pies and Amalia Pferd is one of the owners of Good Dog food truck.

"We actually had retrofitted our truck to be an all-electric truck. And after putting all the equipment in, it turned out we needed a 15,000 watt generator to run it. Which anybody who visited us in the early part of our business, they would have heard it, loud and clear."

Pferd says they burned so much gas, it wasn't profitable. Plus someone stole the generator. Now they're operating on propane, like most of the food trucks in the city, and joining in the effort to get the regulations changed.

"It seems like there's not always everything on our side and that's what these proposed ordinances are kind of doing. They are meant to help the growth of the food truck industry in Houston."

Pferd and Phillips, with other food truck operators, will bring their proposal to a city council committee Tuesday of next week. They say the mayor's office is working with them and they could have ordinance changes on the agenda by the end of the month.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...