Food trucks in downtown Asheville: Downtown Commission discussion Friday June 10, 8:30 a.m.

by Jennifer Saylor on June 9, 2011

Image of the GQC Street Food truck in West Asheville by the AC-T and Bill Sanders

Via Gabriel Shaffer, the husband of food truck entrepreneur Suzy Phillips of Gypsy Queen Cuisine Lebanese Street Food, AKA the Lebanese food truck full of killer falafel.

If you’ve got a strong opinion, share your own views on food trucks in downtown Asheville with the DTC.

Mobile Food discussion with the Downtown Commission this Friday June, 10, 8:30am at City Hall in the North Conference Room. Let’s show our support for Suzy Salwa Phillips and GQC Lebanese Street Food and others eagerly awaiting mobile food vending opportunities.

Mobile Food Vending regulations will be discussed at the next Downtown Commission meeting on Friday, June 10th at 8:30a in the 1st floor conference room in City Hall. The DTC is scheduled to take a vote. Members of the Mobile Food Vending Subcommittee are Jimi Rentz, Rebecca Hecht and Dwight Butner.

Food truck downtown backstory here.

  • Tim Peck

    #Asheville Downtown Commission meeting held this morning. Well, that was interesting. The police were called in. #avlnews #avlgov

  • http://jennifersaylor.wordpress.com/ Jennifer Saylor

    Holy crap! Details?

  • Gary

    Do we really need big trucks, idling and regurgitating pollution to keep their refrigeration and cooktops going, taking up parking, taking away from restauranteurs, blocking the views of the buildings and streets? How many? 5? 10? 40? Really?

  • Tim Peck

    1. Jennifer, Dwight Butner was called out of order for over-riding the interim chairman’s instructions and then interrupting public comment to berate a member of the audience that he has issues with. His loud and hostile manner motivated someone to ask a police officer to move from the City Hall lobby to the meeting room back row. Another audience member and restaurant owner did the same thing during public comment and began berating Gabriel. I spoke up saying, “you have to address the commission not the audience.”

    2. Gary, use of terms like “we” and “need” make me nervous. People trading freely in the marketplace determines what “we need” and not bureaucrats, committees or surveys. Right now, it is the government that is preventing poor people like food truck operators from peaceably earning a livelihood downtown and me from using my judgment about food choices. Only if food trucks are allowed and then fail would I be able to objectively say that “we don’t need food trucks.”

  • Tim Peck

    CLARIFICATION: Mr. Butner was not formally or vocally called out of order by the interim chair. This was a dereliction on her part but she was under duress. (Butner had turned over chairmanship of this portion of the meeting to allow him the opportunity to engage in the general discussion as an interested member.)

    Butner WAS, however, out of order, in fact. The interim chair cautioned Butner as he began to speak during public comment, Butner loudly insisted that he would indeed speak in explicit disregard for the chair’s caution, Butner began making heated comments directed at a member of the audience while jabbing the table with his pen, during which I called out “Objection!” from the audience, twice, Butner stopped commenting and a police officer entered the room to sit in the back shortly thereafter. When the agenda item was concluded, the officer left the chamber.

  • http://thunderpigblog.blogspot.com Thunder Pig

    Is there video of this meeting?

  • Tim Peck

    Thunderous, I saw no media and no cameras. Not even an iPhone or flip camera. The audio from the meeting was recorded by Jennifer Bernstein (Urban Planner II).

  • Gabriel Shaffer

    I have to say, that was the most fun ive ever had at City Hall. I was sincere in my apologies for my “trash talking” or if i hurt anyones feelings, but this is an issue of business and politics that directly effects Suzy and many other lower-middle income citizens in Asheville that deserve an opportunity, without obstruction from unfair advantages.
    You know you’ve done something right when a public official feels the urge to berate you like a principal to a naughty student. I thought he wanted to go into the parking lot and fight, which made me grin a little and i think that sent him into a rage. Im still scratching my head about how i “threatened” or “frightened” his wife. Then again subtlety is not my strongest quality i am an artist, not a commission director. Id say he effectively put a nail in the coffin of the issue with his outburst.

    • Arnold

      Being an artist is not an excuse to act like an asshole.

  • Brian

    I think overall the meeting was very helpful. I was at the meeting and it was a very productive meeting. I disagree that “bureaucrats, committees or surveys” are not needed. We need to ensure that the food is safe, that local ordinances are followed such as recycling, clean water, disposal of used grease, recycling of containers, using of raw foods from approved food vendors per health regulations, zoning, legal permits etc. Restaurant owners are poor people too trying to make a living, they have taken huge risks in a very volatile industry to make a living. How many trucks will be allowed? Will restaurant owners be allowed to have food trucks or only the “poor” as defined by Tim allowed? I guess we don’t need government when it comes to food trucks but we need it when it comes to restaurants? You are allowed to use your own judgment to eat anywhere or anything, true, but there are reasons why we recycle, dispose of garbage in approved containers, use food quality standards, followed generally accepted health and safety standards developed by ‘bureaucrats”

    • Lootles

      So are you assuming that the providers in food trucks will willfully disregard things such as recycling, cleanliness, etc.? Most legitimate business owners (and yes, food truck owners are business owners, too) will abide by the laws. Perhaps one should take a look online at the restaurant inspection scores for Bouchon and Vincenzo’s. Looks like restaurant owner’s that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!

  • Jimi Rentz

    Gabriel, Dwight is not a public official. He is a volunteer appointed by council to perform a civic duty. For the record, I opened Barley’s kitchen for much less than I would spend on a food truck. Granted, I bought newer, better
    equipment as quick as I could. I know what it’s like to go into a project severely underfunded. I do not quite understand the business viability of the food truck phenom in a town of 70,000. Then again, I’m not privy to your business plan (not my business). Personally I’m on the fence seeing both sides of the argument. I’m trying to stay focused on making the issue a win/win situation.

  • Jimi Rentz

    Gabriel, remember also that life is based on perceptions not neccessarily reality. Whether or not you threatened someone is irrelevant, the perception of a threat was there.

  • Gabriel Shaffer

    Jimi, i understand your position and respect your experience and opinions.I appreciate your clarification on Dwights position as well. I know you have been a part of Downtowns transformation from the early days. Im also skeptical of how many trucks can be viably supported by Ashevilles current scale. However , i think that the number can be determined and enforced in such a way that will be harmonious for all.
    Arnold, sorry? Its hard to have an opinion about something that is so close to you, without offending some people.

  • Gabriel Shaffer

    Jimi,
    its pretty shocking to me. Im honestly completely stumped as to what hes talking about. I dont know who his wife is. However, i do see what you are saying. Hence, i will be composing an apology letter to Dwight this weekend and effectively removing myself from the debate at this time.

  • http://www.indahchi.com Julie Wishart

    I just want to eat some great falafel.

  • Tim Peck

    Brian,

    1. No, I did not say that bureaucrats, committees and surveys are “not needed.” I said that in determining whether or not any particular products or services are neeed in a given community, it is the marketplace that decides. The DTC considers it to be its business to determine what kind of products and services will succeed or fail. However, this is a determination outside the proper scope of government. These decisions are made by individuals voluntarily trading value for value for mutual benefit in a free market. It is disconcerting to hear government functionaries identifying suitable sites for food trucks in a slide show presentation. What business acumen is this based on? This is completely backwards. Food truck operators should make these decision based on their expertise as businessmen and the prospect of earning a profit. If a conflict or condition of harm arises, then this is a matter for the courts to adjudicate based on objective law.

    2. Yes, we do need, as you say, “to ensure that the food is safe.” It is the proper role of government to protect the rights of citizens. Government should act to protect individuals from harms such as negligence, malice, fraud (false advertising), and breach of contract. That requires the establishment of objective standards for food safety, advertisement and waste disposal.

    3. Yes, I suppose in some cases I can imagine, restaurant owners can be poor people, too. However, poor people are not prohibited from opening restaurants downtown. Food truck owners are. That is the difference; and it is a difference that violates both the food truck owner’s right to earn a living and my right to exercise dining choices.

  • Tim Peck

    At the DTC meeting, the issue of enforcement was discussed. One suggestion was made that food truck owners could be made to pay a fee to cover the cost of additional police and code enforcement labor.

    I would strongly oppose such a measure because it presumes guilt. Business-people should be presumed to be law abiding. Under the same reasoning, I should buy my own police officer to follow me around town to make sure I don’t jaywalk.

    • Brian

      Then I guess we should also stop inspecting restaurants, checking drivers licenses of people who look to be weaving in and out of traffic at midnite, stop checking teachers credentials, doctors qualifications, drug interactions. Dude, get that crack pipe out of your mouth

  • Jimi Rentz

    Thanks for your response. Now let’s move on.

  • Gary

    Okay, I’ll ask it a different way.
    Do these trucks generate pollution?
    Are they idling or using a generator to cook or keep the food hot or cold?
    How many parking spaces will they take up?
    How many are allowed to be on a street at a time?
    How many are allowed altogether?
    Will there be any regulation as to how often, how many, when?
    Who decides who can sell food of what kind where? And when? and how long?
    And finally,

    Are they idling and creating pollution while they are sitting on the x number of limited parking spaces outside of a restaurant that pays taxes and employs people? Just wonderin’….you know, while we dream of a place to get a falafel on the street.

  • Sandy

    Perhaps this is a different perspective: Food trucks are an important part of the food system entrepreneurial pipeline. It provides a low(er) entry threshold. Gives chance for entrepreneurs to learn a great deal w/out high overhead of starting a restaurant, provides an added layer to the streetscape. I think the details of this contentiousness can be acknowleged/negotiated/dealt with. We need a modicum of civility in our civic dialogue. Why must this be so incendiary?

  • Tim Peck

    Gary, all the issue you are raising are being deliberated in the Mobile Food Vending Subcommittee of the Downtown Commission. Join us.

    • Tim Peck

      issues ^

  • http://davynedial.blogspot.com Davyne Dial

    Tim, Thanks so much for championing this issue. Food trucks are a part of any diverse City I’ve been it, and an important element of the culture. (Read New Orleans and/or NYC).

    Gabrielle, it’s very common for people on the losing end of an argument to demonize and even outright lie to try to stop progress…or justice. I’ve been there..so I have exquisite knowledge. Keep the faith, keep on the right track and keep on food-truckin.

  • http://trueblueartsupply.com Jim Shura

    This is about changing the rules, and a slap in the face to everyone who played by the rules that existed. I’m all for bringing the rent down, but people signed leases and bought spaces with reasonable expectations. Some of them might have bought food trucks instead.

    • Jason Ross Martin

      Exactly, Jim. This is an attempt to change the rules of a game that other people have been playing for years, even through the most challenging economic conditions since the Great Depression.

      How ironic it is that the food truck in question itself is not really the product of hard work and saving and investment; it came from a donation campaign. Why didn’t the proprietor ask for a restaurant lease instead? Why does the whole downtown restaurant economy have to be inexorably changed because of a single individual’s desire to own a business?

      Why are our elected officials even entertaining this idea?

  • Pingback: Asheville, NC: Food Truck Debate Gets Hot & Loud | Mobile Food News

  • Tim Peck

    Victory for El Paso Street Vendors
    Institute for Justice Scores a Quick and Decisive Win in National Battle to Protect Economic Liberty
    http://www.ij.org/about/3830

    “IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative recently scored its first victory when the city of El Paso repealed its protectionist regulations that had prohibited vendors from operating within 1,000 feet of any restaurant, grocer or convenience store, and also prohibited vendors from stopping and waiting for customers…”

  • Gabriel Shaffer

    Here is a copy of the apology letter i sent to Mr Butner this AM. Just to clarify, i have never threatened harm on anyone through this debate.
    “Mr. Butner,
    I have had a few days since the ADA meeting to think about and research the source of your surprising accusation towards me. In addition i have contacted a few local business owners and old school locals to further discuss and learn about you and your role in the downtown preservation movement, which is something i have a deep respect for. I learned you not only own a business and property downtown, but are also a resident as well. This explains even further to me, why you are so passionate about this argument. You have alot of yourself invested in downtown, its completely understandable why you take such a strong position. So i will begin this from a space of mutual respect. Like you, i also care deeply for Asheville. It has been an instrumental part of my life. I wouldnt be where i am today as a professional artist, if it wasnt for Asheville. I feel indebted to the city.

    Lets first address the issue of “frightening” your wife. The only place i was able to locate any commentary that might have been misconstrued as threatening was on my FB page from a comment feed pertaining to a ACT article. The comment i found posted was from a contact, who was saying in jest, that we should go to city hall and get “gangsta”. This was not a serious statement. But i do however understand it doesnt change the fact that your wifes discomfort is real. I sincerely apologize for any unnecessary duress i might have caused from her reading that. It had never occurred to me until Friday, that i should police my personal blog pages comments. Although i am very passionate about the things i care for, i have never and will never spitefully threaten physical harm on another individual. Thats not my way. I would also like to further state, i have no affiliation or connections to anyone that would ever consider carrying out a violent act against another person. So i hope that you can at least come to a place of agreement with me on this particular issue. this was clearly a comment that was lost in translation during a very heated debate. Once again, I apologize to you and your wife whole heartedly for this misunderstanding. I understand your anger, i would react the same way if someone caused Suzy to feel threatened.

    Regarding the mobile food debate. Although, my opinions will be unchanged, i am removing myself from the argument. I will not make any further comments on my FB page, Twitter feed or any other online source regarding this issue. All i have attempted to do from the beginning of this nightmare, is try to protect Suzy from a situation i felt was imbalanced and unfair. I was raised to be a very strong supporter of free market capitalism, which at its heart is competitive. After reading your comments in the ACT article and hearing through word of mouth from other business owners your opinions, i became enraged with frustration over what i was seeing as an attempted filibuster. I still believe a healthy balance can be obtained that will benefit parties on both sides, only i will no longer be a part of that discussion.

    If you feel you would like to talk about this matter further with me personally, i would be happy to talk about it. The only thing i ask is that we discuss it in a reasonable and calm fashion.

    Sincerely,
    Gabriel Shaffer”

  • Jason Ross Martin

    The comments, behaviors, and opinions of Gabriel Shaffer should not be seen as relevant to the issue of changing the existing laws that forbid food trucks in downtown Asheville. He is married to the individual who is seeking to change the law! What he claims is a social justice issue is really just an attempt to bypass the rules that the other restaurant operators have followed for his own financial gain.

    I know for a fact that some fledgling restaurants in downtown are paying over $12,000 a month in rent in order to attempt to create a sustainable business. These businesses employ individuals who are just as entitled to earn a living as the proprietors of the Food Truck Wannabees. Why are the rights of those playing by the rules less significant than those of a select few who stand to benefit if they can succeed via intimidation and faulty racism-based arguments to get the laws changed?

    Of course Cecil Bothwell comes out on the side he perceives to be the most liberal. He has his eyes set on national office and will not be around to be voted out of office if the laws are changed to allow food trucks in downtown.

    I also think Shaffer’s claim to recuse himself from the debate, after already declaring victory all over the blogosphere, is laughable.

    It is not too late for the concerened citizens of Asheville to defeat this dangerous idea.

  • Lootles

    Dear Mr. Martin, I doubt that the “fine dining” establishments of downtown will suffer if the food trucks are allowed to enter the central business district. People who are more likely to frequent food trucks are looking for a different experience. There would be room for both.

    Are you aware that in many cities some of the most innovative chefs are operating restaurants and food trucks, too? They can peacefully coexist. Asheville prides itself in being cutting edge, but they are woefully behind the times on this subject.

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