Friday, October 26, 2012
Plano may become food truck friendly
The trend is poised to take over the suburbs.
PLANO Food trucks are one of the fastest-growing dining trends in Texas.
The mobile kitchens dish out everything from Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwiches loaded with grilled pork and daikon radish to baked potatoes with blue cheese and buffalo chicken on top. If it has been dreamed up, there is probably a food truck in DFW that specializes in selling it.
However, while food trucks are a common sight in parts of DFW, they are virtually absent from Plano. That could all change if the city council goes through with a change to the zoning ordinance to make the city more food-truck friendly.
"Every two years, we review the food safety ordinance for relevance and timeliness," said Brian Collins, Plano health director. "... Recently, food truck parks and food trucks have become part of the thinking in food safety so we are incorporating sections into the ordinance to manage those."
The changes are designed to allow for food truck parks, which often feature five to six trucks surrounding a central dining area. The trucks may be based out of a park semi-permanently or change daily, but the key is variety, said Chic Henderson, owner of the Dallas-based Potato-Potahto truck.
"People like gourmet foods and they like the differences you can have," Henderson said. "They can go to a food truck park, and a family can eat five or six different cuisines at the same place and not be stuck in a single restaurant."
Potato-Potahto, which has been in business for about a year, specializes in baked potatoes with non-traditional toppings. Henderson said concerns that food trucks will steal business from brick-and-mortar restaurants are overblown.
"As a general rule, we really don't take business away from restaurants," he said. "If someone is going to go eat in a restaurant, they are going to go eat in a restaurant. There is a little bit of a different crowd that goes to food trucks."
Henderson said the trucks offer a chance to deliver restaurant-quality food without some of the costs associated with a traditional restaurant, such as rent and large staffs. The trucks also allow chefs to showcase their creativity by fusing cuisines to come up with new culinary creations.
"It gives you some freedom and latitude that you may not have at a traditional restaurant," he said. "If you decide on a Tuesday you want to make shrimp jambalaya then that is what you do. It gives you a chance to experiment with food and see what people like."
The permitting process would be similar to the one used with traditional restaurants, said Geoffrey Heinicke, the city's environmental health manager. He said truck operators would need to submit the truck's schematics to ensure items such as sinks and refrigerators are up to code.
"This is just an opportunity for us to see how the operation is going to work and the food safety steps that they have built in," he said. "This is our opportunity on the front end to work with them and ensure that the requirements are being met."
A requirement that operators must submit their menu at the time of inspection is also being included to make sure the truck has adequate equipment for the kind of food being prepared, Heinicke said. The menu would only be required to receive a permit and would not need to be resubmitted each time it was changed.
A food truck ordinance, which would encompass changes to the city's health code and zoning laws, could be voted on an upcoming city council meeting.
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