October 4, 2014

Administrative changes in Houston could be set to cause expansion in the food truck scene.Texas culinary arts school students should have something to celebrate next time they find themselves in Houston, as a recent change in city ordinances is set to cause a massive expansion in the city’s food truck scene. In recent years, a number of laws put in place by the Houston City Council have greatly limited expansion of mobile eateries within city limits, predominantly due to concerns over usage of varying public spaces and safety concerns regarding cooking equipment and fuel. However, at a press conference that took place on Sept. 26, 2014, Mayor Annise Parker announced that she had made administrative changes (completely apart from the city council) to undo these ordinances.

Changes in fuel regulations
One of the rules that was struggled with by the majority of the food trucks in Houston pertained to the use of propane or other compressed fuels kept inside of any trucks. According to Culture Map Houston, any mobile restaurants that were operating in either the Texas Medical Center or the Central Business District of downtown Houston were limited in their use of these fuels. Specifically, these trucks were required to employ a fire marshal who would be on site at all times during operating hours. Obviously, this posed a problem as space inside one of these trucks is deeply limited. Parker’s new administrative ruling has made it legal for food trucks in either of these districts to use tanks containing up to 60 pounds of pressurized fuel without a fire marshal, which should expand the presence of these trucks in the downtown area.

Public space
The same ordinance that had restricted the use of propane in these districts also limited the use of public spaces, such as patios or outdoor seating. There existed a longstanding argument between the owners of sedentary, brick and mortar restaurants and food truck restaurateurs wherein those with permanent locations felt that food trucks threatened their potential business by offering an impermanent dining option directly outside their doors. Now, according to KHOU 11, food trucks will be able to use public patios, chairs and benches near these restaurants as staging areas and to provide seating for their customers. Again, it’s expected that this should be a considerable boon to the food truck presence in the Texas Medical Center and Central Business district of the city.

Public reception
While the move from Mayor Parker has been met with predominantly positive feedback from the community, the same concerns that preceded her administrative order still prevail with some owners of sedentary restaurants. That said, those with a well-rounded perspective of the restaurant industry seem to think that this more open market will simply provide an arena for the best food purveyors to rise. In speaking with KHOU 11, Ryan Soroka of Eastie Boys, a group that owns both a food truck and a restaurant in Houston, elaborated on that sentiment.

“It’s about the same threat as another brick and mortar opening up,” said Soroka. “The restaurant business is hard whether you’re on a truck or bricks and sticks.”