As food trucks from around the country rolled into downtown Pensacola this week as part of a Food Network competition show, some puzzled locals took to social media.
“Will they still want to do the show even though we don’t allow mobile food trucks downtown?” one woman asked on Mayor Ashton Hayward’s Facebook page.
It’s a common misconception, no doubt reinforced by the fact that Pensacola city council members spent much of 2015 and 2016 discussing potential food truck restrictions. Twice, council members passed a food truck ordinance on first reading before changing course and voting it down on a second reading amid heavy lobbying by some downtown restaurateurs against any measure that would legitimize food trucks.
In the end, however, council members couldn’t agree on the details and didn’t pass any ordinance, leaving food trucks almost entirely unregulated in downtown Pensacola and the rest of the city. Currently, as long as a food truck has a city business permit, a state license, and meets health standards, they can park in any legal parking space anywhere in the city and start doing business.
Why don’t we see more food trucks downtown, then?
One word: uncertainty. Some potential food truck operators are hesitant to invest in a truck so long as there’s the open-ended threat that city officials could step in at any moment with arbitrary “buffer zones” meant to protect the brick and mortar restaurants that feel threatened. The few that are currently operating downtown tend to congregate at Pensacola City Hall, where Mayor Hayward, a food truck supporter, has welcomed them.
It’s yet to be seen if the influx of food trucks this week — some of which have parked on Palafox Street just steps from brick and mortar restaurants — will convince naysayers like Hopjacks/Tin Cow owner Joe Abston and Seville Quarter patriarch Wilmer Mitchell that their restaurants can coexist with food trucks.