Food truck owners want Portland to make it easier for them to operate in all city parks, including Monument Square.
But the proposal, which will be reviewed Tuesday by the City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee, is facing resistance from the city staff and at least one restaurant owner.
Mike Roylos, who owns the Spartan Grill in Monument Square, said that allowing food trucks to park in the square and serve food would hurt his established business.
“We’ve been barely able to survive this winter,” he said.
Roylos said he supports food trucks as long as they don’t compete with traditional restaurants, which pay rent and property taxes. Monument Square is lined with restaurants that cater to lunch and after-work crowds.
“It would be nice if they went along with the original idea of having food trucks in areas where there was no food,” he said. “There is quite a bit of food out here.”
Portland began allowing food trucks in 2012, joining a growing number of U.S. cities that have embraced mobile restaurants and providing a new fleet of dining choices to Portland’s foodies and downtown workers.
To ease restaurant owners’ concerns, the City Council passed a restrictive ordinance that allowed food trucks to operate in only certain areas of the city and not within 65 feet of an open restaurant.
The ordinance proved too restrictive for many food truck operators, so last year the council loosened some of the rules. Now food trucks can be larger and they can cluster to attract more business, park for as long as four hours in some metered spots, and apply for permits through a more efficient, less costly process.
Still, the food truck business has taken off more slowly than expected. This year, 13 food trucks are licensed in Portland, according to city records. About eight were operating in the city last May.
Very few food truck operators are responding to the city’s competitive bid process to operate in six city parks and recreational areas. Last year, only one food truck vendor replied to the city’s request for proposals for parks, said Jim Lobley, an administrative assistant with the city’s finance department. No one applied in 2012.
“I know some councilors and committee members are frustrated the city hasn’t made progress to getting more food trucks in public parks,” said Councilor Edward Suslovic, who chairs the Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee. “My goal is to open up Lincoln Park” by designating several on-street parking spots for food trucks, he said.
Seven food truck owners who have been meeting over the past six months proposed a list of changes to the city late last year, saying the recommendations would bolster the food truck economy.
The group would like the city to open all of its parks, including Compass Park on the Maine State Pier, to food trucks through a request-for-proposals process that would allow multiple vendors.
The city’s proposal process now allows only one food truck in each of these areas: Back Cove, Deering Oaks parking lot, East End Beach, Kiwanis Pool, Lincoln Park and the Western Promenade.
“The (existing) process is very limiting,” said Nick Underwood, who owns the Wicked Good Truck and served on the committee that is recommending the changes.
The group hopes to expand that list to all city parks and make changes that would allow food trucks to cluster on Thursday nights on the Eastern Promenade, on Wednesday nights at Back Cove and on Saturday mornings at the farmers market in Deering Oaks.
The group would like the city to allow food trucks to operate in Monument Square “in some capacity, starting with one or two days a week,” according to an email to the city from Sarah and Karl Sutton, who own the Bite Into Maine food truck.
The group also would like the city to designate some metered parking spots as “food truck only,” especially some of the meters next to Monument Square.
Monument Square, however, has been designated as off-limits, says a memo to the committee from Jennifer Thompson, a city attorney.
“At this time, staff does not recommend pursuing either of these (Monument Square) proposals because they are in direct conflict with the recommendations of the Food Truck Task Force,” Thompson wrote.
The truck operators say they should also be allowed to park in metered spots anywhere in the city after 6 p.m. Currently, trucks cannot occupy parking spaces outside of their designated zones until 10 p.m.
The city staff is not recommending that change either, Thompson wrote.
The food truck operators are not proposing to eliminate the requirement that trucks be at least 65 feet from open restaurants.
Underwood understands that the Monument Square proposal will face opposition from restaurants, making it a delicate political issue. “We put together a wish list of everything we’d like,” he said.
Except for the proposal for Monument Square, Underwood says the other recommendations are realistic and do not threaten restaurants.
“People who are going to eat at a food truck are on-the-go,” he said. “It’s a different market.”
Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at: