Puyallup Herald

New pilot program to loosen regulations for food trucks coming to Puyallup

Expect to see more food trucks in Puyallup in the near future.

City Council approved a pilot food truck program in a 7-0 vote Tuesday that will loosen city regulations on mobile vendors interested in operating in Puyallup.

The program is a win for vendors, who will have more flexibility in where they can serve, said Lori Johnson, executive director for the Washington State Food Trucks Association. The association stated on its Facebook page last month that the program is “another step forward bringing justice to street vendors.”

“I think this will mean great things,” Johnson said. “It’s just a great way to get the community bonding together again. It’s just an interesting way to integrate food trucks into city life.”

The association first proposed the pilot program to the city last year. City officials are currently working on the details of the program and don’t yet know an implementation date.

Under existing conditions, mobile vendors are required to get background checks before obtaining a permit and can only operate on private property. Such is the case with current mobile vendor Fat Zachs Pizza, which started operating in downtown Puyallup this summer.

Mobile vendors are also subject to geographic restrictions under current regulations and cannot operate within 400 feet of schools or within 300 feet of restaurants, public parks or city-authorized concession stands.

As presented to council by the city last year, the new program could eliminate the requirement for background checks and reduce the geographic restrictions for mobile vendors. Food trucks will be able to vend on the street, not just on private property, which vendors say was a cumbersome barrier to operating in Puyallup.

“It’s definitely going to open the doors to a lot of things downtown,” said Jen Gustin, owner and operator of Boss Mama’s Kitchen.

Gustin started Boss Mama’s Kitchen more than two years ago. The food truck serves burgers, grilled cheese and other comfort foods in Puyallup, Lakewood, Tacoma and other Pierce County areas.

Unless asked by businesses to come serve for company events, Gustin found it difficult to operate in Puyallup.

Trent Jurgensen, owner and operator of The Frying Dutchman, felt the same way. Jurgensen opened his food truck three years ago and serves fish and chips in Puyallup, Milton, Edgewood and Sumner.

Jurgensen said the anticipated loosened regulations make Puyallup more “food truck friendly,” and he is looking into serving more downtown.

The program initially drew concern from council members, who said that the competition might negatively impact the economic viability of downtown brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Former Puyallup/Sumner Chamber of Commerce CEO Shelly Schlumpf told The Herald last year that food trucks were good for business during downtown events.

“I’ve spoken with some of our restaurant owners, and they are pretty much of the same opinion. And food truck policies, in some cases, can provide our restaurants with alternate opportunities for food services,” Schlumpf said in a Dec. 14, 2017 story by The Herald.

Food truck vendors say their presence will be good for everyone.

“I know that restaurants feel like they’re going to get the short end of the stick, but at the same time, in my opinion, no one stops someone from building a restaurant across the street (and creating) the same issue,” Jurgenson said.

“(The pilot program) is really going to make people aware that trucks are a great resource, not just for downtown, but for events,” Gustin said.

In Gustin’s experience, brick-and-mortar restaurants have been welcoming.

“I’ve had people that own brick and mortars, they are very excited that we’re around,” Gustin said. “If you work together and you work strategy together, everybody succeeds.”

While supportive, some council members cautioned moving forward, saying they plan to keep an eye on any possible inequities between restaurants and mobile vendors.

“I love the free market, but we are providing free rent on our public streets,” Mayor John Palmer said. “We just need to be conscious and be sure we don’t tilt things one way or another.”

Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, is sponsoring a bill during next year’s legislative session that would “simplify part of the permitting process” by standardizing county regulations for mobile vendors.

“I think there’s a lot of interest in growing the food truck industry and would love to do what we can to move that along,” Zeiger said.