Friday, July 3, 2020

Food trucks a no-go in St. Joe, at least for now

Food trucks will not be allowed to operate inside the Village of St. Joseph border. After nearly an hour long discussion, village trustees put off the decision to allow or ban mobile restaurants services.

The discussion was initiated after it was announced via a post on Facebook that the Piato Food Truck had made plans to roll into town on June 15 and serve their signature cuisine.

Trustee Dan Davis contributed a post three days later, citing a committee meeting resolution, informing readers that food trucks were not allowed to set up shop in St. Joseph.

Responding to Davis' post close to an hour later, Office Manager Julie Hendrickson added to the thread, "I called the truck owner Friday and told him that we don't allow Food trucks."

Resident Amber Anderson, a day later, questioned the policy. She soon learned there was not a codified statute or policy on the books regulating food trucks operating in the village.

At the February 4 meeting, Mayor Tami Fruhling-Voges as well as Trustees Davis and Jim Wagner were present. Local businesses were represented by Roche's Frederick Sturts and Roche Cain, Bob Patel from Dairy Queen, Padano Pizzeria's Hassan Fadel, Kelly Reynolds from Scratch along with Tracie Trotter from Wyldewood Cellars and Denise Hatfield from Jack Flash. Also on hand were Jay Whealer from Monical's Pizza, Kathy Lyons for Geschenk Coffee Haus and Todd Woods from the St. Joe IGA.

The group, who felt the competition would be detrimental to their bottom line, unanimously opposed the idea of allowing food truck vendors operate inside the village. With the rising threat of the pandemic starting to gain ground in North America, the village administrators did not take further action on the issue.

February 4 food truck committee minutes

"I’ve been in email contact with the mayor and there currently isn’t any food truck policy," Anderson wrote on June 18. "Things were spoken in this thread incorrectly, Piato should have never been told not to come, and are getting an apology from the town."

Last month's June 23 board meeting, the council plunged into the issue starting with statements sent via email from business owners after a presentation by former Champaign City Manager Steve Carter, who is seeking a similar position with the village.

In her statement, Trotter, from Wyldewood Cellars, said she could see the issue from both sides.

"Small business are not thriving," she said. "I don't want to see businesses close."

Trotter wrote that whatever decision that is eventually reached, it does needs to be fair.

In keeping the playing field level, she suggested that food trucks pay a permit fee and taxes to the village. She was neither for or against them providing their services to those in the community looking for alternative meal options.

The majority of the opposition from local business owners centered around the unfair advantage food truck services have over brick and mortar establishments.

Scratch's owner said local businesses have more financial responsibilities to navigate such as rent, utilities, bank notes and payroll.

"It will only result in a smaller piece of the pie," said Reynolds, who use to have a food truck business at one point and pointed out her restaurant, pre-Covid, regularly was frequented by visitors from Champaign, Danville, Monticello and Mahomet.

Later during the meeting she asked, rhetorically, "I am a little confused. Why do they (food trucks) want to come to a bedroom community of 4,000?"

Hatfield, who was also present for the open forum, voiced her opposition to the board. She had concerns about the competition food trucks potentially posed for Jack Flash.

Trustee Davis called local businesses stakeholders in the community. He pointed out that St. Joseph business owners contribute to the local economy in several different ways like advertising in athletic programs and at games.

He called for a decision to ban food truck operations for the time being. Davis suggested the issue be revisited in the future, perhaps after the local economy rebounds from the effects of state's shelter-in-place subsequent Restore Illinois plan.

Roche added that not many people see what he and other local business owners do for the community like "donating $500 right off the bat" to the St. Joseph-Ogden high school athletic program and providing generous donations to other programs in the school district.

"We feed the teams," he said. "There's never enough money."

After explaining the how tough it was for him to open his establishment eight years ago along with the financial and sweat equity he has invested into Roche's, he said flatly, "I'm not a fan."

"We made the commitment to our local businesses," said trustee Art Rapp. Earlier in the meeting, he admitted that he would hate to detour new business in the village but echoed Davis' sentiment. "Maybe at sometime it might be good to entertain (allowing) food trucks. I think a prohibition is in order."

Anderson asked the board to consider policy that will fair and will cover all food trucks that would like to or currently offer service in the village. She added that a policy governing food trucks should not be made out of fear.

She closed her time before the board asking the village to set a time frame to revisit the issue.

Before moving on to move on to other business, Fruhling-Voges said the decision for or against allowing food trucks won't come for a while.

"There is a lot to think about in creating a village policy," she said.



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