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Food trucks in St. Louis area face challenges with variety of ordinances

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2012 - The public sees very little of a food truck’s full day. Between lunch and dinner rushes, the owner must tackle a truckload of details both on the business side of the job and in dealing with city and county ordinances.

Willie Hinnah, co-owner of the Speedway Eatery said that a work day for his truck can start at 3 a.m. and end at 11 p.m. After the morning preparations the truck will head out, returning to their commissary after lunch to restock before dinner. They’ll move out again, and once they return from the dinner rush, he spends the next two hours cleaning his truck.  

“It keeps you hopping,” Hinnah said. “It’s about a 20 hour a day job, really by the time you figure all your prep time and keeping the truck clean.”

The trucks themselves are heavily specialized and can cost well over $20,000 to build. The cooking equipment needs to be commercial grade, and the trucks must be outfitted with additional devices for such things as ventilation, fire suppression and refrigeration.

“You do have to have commercial equipment,” Hinnah said. “It can’t be stuff that comes out of your home. You can’t just go buy a crock pot at K-Mart and use it.”

Hinnah originally used his mobile food career to supplement his income and to help pay for his racecar, which was his weekend hobby. After the economy took a downturn, he sold his racecar and used the money from the food truck to pay bills instead. Hinnah said he wouldn’t mind picking up his racing hobby again, but his current goal is more family oriented.

“What we’d really like to do is get my son home, he’s over in Afghanistan for his fourth tour, bring him back to St. Louis and build another truck, [and] put him and his wife in it,” Hinnah said.  

One of the tools at the disposal of food truck drivers like Hinnah is the St. Louis Food Truck Association. This group, which is run by a board of five food truck drivers, tries to get a voice for their business in the community as well as to create a repository of information useful to existing and future food truck drivers.

Part of the way the association helps drivers is by keeping track of the different ordinances and health codes around the area. Many food trucks will roam from city to county areas, but doing so complicates their business. The city of St. Louis and the surrounding areas have different rules and additional fees that food truck drivers must take into consideration.

“Each municipality has its own [ordinances],” said Thomas Broadwell, owner of Papa Tom’s Fancy Franks and a board member for the association. “The biggest challenge we have is understanding if we have to have a separate business license for the city that we’re going in. For instance chesterfield, they have a 25 dollar permit we have to buy. That’s fine. But unless you go into the city of Chesterfield to ask them … you wouldn’t necessarily know that you needed that.”  

To see a tracker for food trucks in St. Louis and to get more information on the individual trucks like menus and contact info, visit showmefoodtrucks.com/

Dan Fox is a Beacon intern.

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