Food Freedom

This South Carolina City Is Crushing Its Own Food Truck Economy

Greenville has run its food trucks out of town.

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Greenville, South Carolina, is hemorrhaging food trucks—despite city efforts to promote itself as a food-truck friendly locale. And overbearing regulations are to blame.

This week, the Greenville News reported that rules intended "to make food trucks safer have left some parked for good."

"Some" may be an understatement. According to the News, 22 of the 32 food trucks that were active in Greenville last year are no longer operating there or—in at least some cases—anywhere at all.

The new rules require food trucks to have exhaust hoods, automatic fire-suppression systems, and other tools and systems in place—along with passing annual fire inspections. Those rules have been in place statewide since the beginning of the year. 

While food truck owners aren't complaining about the fire-code rules per se, the way the city has gone about implementing them has led some to suggest Greenville is treating them differently than it would brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Those complaints have merit. According to the News, other cities in the state have given trucks in their jurisdictions time to come into compliance with the law. But not Greenville, where the rules took effect on January 1.

One food truck owner told the News he only learned of the new fire-code requirements from the city in late November—just weeks before the rules were set to take effect.

"Say a major fire code [modification] came about for all restaurants, you can't tell me they would have done this the same way to every restaurant in the city limits of Greenville," Eric Edmondson, a truck owner, told the News.

Edmondson is right. But a closer look at the regulatory climate for food trucks in Greenville also suggests these new rules may be nothing more than the straw that broke the camel's back. That's because the city already had some awful food-truck regulations in place. 

A 2014 Greenville News piece painted the city as patently unfriendly to the handful of food trucks operating there.

"Though [a] city ordinance passed last year was meant to give food trucks a solid place in downtown, many truck owners have found the restrictions actually hurt their business rather than helped," the News reported then. "While the city has the biggest customer demand for food trucks, the cost to operate and restrictions on where trucks can operate hinder business, food truck owners say."

The Greenville ordinance requires food trucks to operate in a limited number of designated public parking spots and to be at least 250 feet from each and every brick-and-mortar restaurant unless they get approval from those brick-and-mortar restaurants.

That latter requirement is a notorious food-truck killer.

In Chicago, the city's infamous ban on food trucks operating within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant has helped cause the number of trucks operating in the city to fall by half.

Like Chicago lawmakers, who baldly protect the city's powerful restaurant interests for no legitimate moral, health, or safety reasons, Greenville's city council has sought to "balance concerns from restaurant owners," the News reports. This purported "balance," as it always does, protects brick-and-mortar restaurants and their landlords while harming food trucks and consumers.

"Our primary goal was to develop a plan whereby existing restaurants can continue to be successful, not feel threatened by food trucks, and introduce the growing food truck industry to Greenville in a profound and meaningful way," then-Mayor pro tem David Sudduth told WYFF in 2013.  

When a city has as its "primary goal" to regulate one industry in order to protect another, competing industry, nothing good—nevermind profound or meaningful—will result.

In a piece last week on the purportedly welcoming business climate in Greenville, The New York Times discussed how the city's successful pitch to larger businesses—including automaker BMW—centered on the city's status as "a cheap, practical place to do business." That same piece details how Greenville is home to many of the "the hallmarks of a thriving city[,] like food trucks."

If food trucks are a hallmark of a thriving city—and I also think they are—then impractical city regulations have ensured Greenville thrives a little less every day.

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  1. So driving a fire trap pile of crap up in front of a restaurant and competing with it is AOK?

    sure

    that said the failure to give adequate time to update equipment is ridiculous

    greenville is ~28 square miles, it would seem to be easy to find a spot that is not within 200 feet of a restaurant is not that hard. 60k people, it is no manhatten

    You have no ‘right’ to park your vehicle where ever you please to conduct business

    1. If your restaurant is losing business to “a fire trap pile of crap,” you may want to improve what you’re doing.

      1. But competition is hard!

      2. “If your restaurant is losing business to “a fire trap pile of crap,” you may want to improve what you’re doing.”

        Good point…

    2. You have no ‘right’ to park your vehicle where ever you please to conduct business

      Why not? Absent trespass, why not? What gives government the right to control what people do with their property?

      Fuck off, slaver.

    3. “So driving a fire trap pile of crap up in front of a restaurant and competing with it is AOK?”

      Yes.

      1. Completely agree. What the fuck is a fire trap, anyway? Anything can burn. Maybe we should start strictly monitoring your diet, arpiniant1? We wouldn’t want to expose restaurants to a heart attack trap, would we? And are you CPR certified, by the way? If not, you are a danger to others and we need to take care of that ASAP. Also, when was he last time you were checked for hepatitis? Don’t even tell me you are going out in public without being positive you are not spreading a dangerous disease.

        1. “…What the fuck is a fire trap, anyway?…”

          Something arpiniant1 just tossed out there in the hopes his strawman might be less obvious.

    4. greenville is ~28 square miles, it would seem to be easy to find a spot that is not within 200 feet of a restaurant is not that hard.

      You know, like in a cemetery, or the town dump. People visit those places all the time when they’re hungry, right?

    5. fwiw, Greenville apparently has over 1000 restaurants. 200′ from a restaurant is an exclusion area with radius 200+R, where R is the ‘radius’ of the restaurant itself.

      The average restaurant kitchen is ~1000 square feet, and that’s an average of 30% of the restaurant’s area. That makes the restaurant a bit over 3300 square feet, but we’re going to round it up to 3600 because it makes the math easier. Assuming it’s a square, it’s 60′ on a side (with 3300 sq ft, it’s a little under 60′, so close enough).

      Now, the actual radius that encompasses a square 60′ on a side is longer than 30′. It’s the line from the center to the corner, which is the squareroot of 1800, or ~42.5′. We’re going to use that, because the law probably measures from the *property*, not the building wall, and so that’s probably an underestimate, on average.

      So, each restaurant excludes an area with a radius approximately 242.5′. A = pi*r^2 = 184,745 sq ft. Per restaurant. There are over 1000 restaurants in Greenville, SC, as noted, which is a maximum possible total area of 184,745 x 1,000 = 184,745,000 sq ft, or ~6.6 sq miles.

      While Greenville might be ~28 square miles, most of that area is not going to be able to support a restaurant business. Even granting we’ve overcounted the area excluded by restaurants (due to overlap), we’re probably looking at >95% of the economically viable road space being excluded.

      Just think about it – if the spot doesn’t have a restaurant, that probably means its not economically viable to operate a restaurant there. And while a food truck has less overhead than a brick and mortar restaurant, it’s not zero. While there will be a few places that it’s economical to operate a food truck but not a physical restaurant, most of those places wouldn’t be profitable enough to even operate a food truck.

      So it’s not just about finding a spot more than 200′ from a restaurant, it’s about finding a spot that can provide enough returns to stay in business that’s *also* 200′ from a restaurant. When restaurants potentially exclude ~1/4 of the area of Greenville, that feels like a tall ask.

      1. High effort math post. Nice.

      2. This is Reason comments section, your illuminating, well reasoned and insightful post has no place here…..

    6. “greenville is ~28 square miles, it would seem to be easy to find a spot that is not within 200 feet of a restaurant is not that hard. 60k people, it is no manhatten”

      Says somebody who’s never been to Greenville. Sure, you can find spots that aren’t within 250 feet of a restaurant. Think they’re going to let you park your food truck in a residential neighborhood?

    7. You have no ‘right’ to park your vehicle where ever you please to conduct business

      But you should.

    8. “So driving a fire trap pile of crap up in front of a restaurant and competing with it is AOK?”

      I have never seen a food truck fire, however I have seen many restaurants catch fire, some more than once. I would rather be standing next to a food truck on fire than sitting in a restaurant that is on fire.

  2. The same thing happened to me when I tried to start my mobile strip joint. With so many churches and schools everywhere I couldn’t park my truck anywhere and the ordinance that said I couldn’t park within 250 feet of a brick and mortar strip joint totally killed my business.

    1. That certainly gave those businesses a leg up on you.

      1. Sorry your business wasn’t able to take off.

    2. You may be joking, but I’ve literally seen these driving around before.

  3. OT – Trump may encourage classical architecture in the design of federal buildings.

    Actual response from Trump opponents: You know who else…

    https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2020/03/against-architectural-relativism

    1. Oh geez, very first line throws in Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer. I stopped reading right there.

      1. To be fair, he author is criticizing the comparison.

        1. That’s ok. So I missed reading an anti-anti-Trump pieces. I suppose it all evens out. But I did get the important part — TDS and Godwinning FTW!

    2. Is there anything that happens that can’t be blamed on President Trump somehow?

      The problem isn’t just bias. There’s an assumption underlying the idea that the President is to blame or not for everything that happens–up to and including architectural styles–that is woefully anti-libertarian. If the president is to blame for every detail in our lives, then it makes whom we elect to be president seem like it’s more important than the choices we make for ourselves.

      One of my favorite definitions of a libertarian is: Someone who doesn’t believe that politicians are the solution to our problems. If people were more concerned about their own individual interests and how to pursue them, rather than the secondary effects of the Trump administration’s aesthetic preferences, the world would be a much freer and better place for everybody.

      P.S. Is there anything that celebrities don’t know?

      1. “There’s an assumption underlying the idea that the President is to blame or not for everything that happens” — or gets credit from the other side. Like the Trumpistas who credit Trump for every stock market rise, and disclaim all blame when it drops.

        1. Yes, that’s what’s important . . . to you–whether the president is to blame or not.

    3. Absolutely do not tell Howard Roark.

    4. Actually,

      Catesby Leigh writes about public art and architecture and lives in Washington. He is a co-founder and past chair and research fellow of the National Civic Art Society, which supports the proposed executive order.

      the article is favorable to Trump, on this, at least.

      1. Just to be clear, I cited the article because it chronicles the Godwinning, I din’t mean to suggest the author was doing any Godwinning himself.

      2. Responding to attacks on Trump’s fascist penchant for classical architecture is only necessary because someone Godwined his administration’s taste in architecture.

        I don’t know what’s been said about the say Trump plays golf in the past, but if and when “serious” journalists write about it today, $20 in funny money says it’s fascist.

        I can’t be the only one that notices the way he goose steps from his golf cart to make a putt.

  4. I’ve been saying I wouldn’t make any predictions about whether the coronavirus will get worse or better, but I’m starting to come off of that stance. I’m thinking things are about to get worse.

    Over the next couple of weeks, I’d expect to see it spread all over the U.S., and we’ll probably see people quarantining themselves before that–if they aren’t doing that already.

    The NCAA is already looking at banning fans from attending basketball games everywhere–not that plenty of fans wouldn’t have canceled their travel plans anyway or that individual schools weren’t banning fans from attending games anyway.

    It’ll be like when the streets empty out just before a hurricane hits, only everywhere in the country. It’ll be like during the Superbowl broadcast–only it will last for a couple of weeks.

    1. You know, if everybody’s staying home the few people who do venture out will be highly-sought-after targets for muggers and rapists. I smell a unique angle on an All-Things-Trump news story!

      1. And speaking of All-Things-Trump, I somehow missed this bit of silly speculation (i.e., Fake News) from last month. Why do they just make shit like this up all the time?

        1. What do you mean? Trump was totally going to do it until the media spilled the beans, then he changed his plans to make the media look bad.

          Duh.

    2. We’ve been fairly isolated since my car became irreparable 3 months ago. However, my housemate goes to group therapy 3 times a week via van. That’s how I envision my getting this thing, and we have severity risk factors.

  5. So do brick and mortar restaurants have to relocate until they are at least 200′ from each other?

    1. Which reminds me…

      Do you know why you can’t buy writing paper at Baba Yaga’s hut?

      Because it’s not a *stationary* store.

      1. And you can’t learn to chicken dance at Office Max.

  6. “I expect them to turn out,” Tlaib said about Michigan Muslims. “I know that if they go to the polls, they’ll vote for Sen. Sanders. I want them to deliver Michigan for Sen. Sanders.”

    Motherfucker, you’re a United States senator. You’re an American, not a Palestinian—or you damn well should be anyway.

    1. Do you imagine that Muslim American citizens aren’t Americans?

      What are you talking about?

      1. How the fuck did you draw such a bizarre interpretation from what I posted? I’m saying that as a United States senator, she should be identifying as an American, not as a Palestinian.

        1. “I expect them to turn out,” Tlaib said about Michigan Muslims. “I know that if they go to the polls, they’ll vote for Sen. Sanders. I want them to deliver Michigan for Sen. Sanders.”

          Why do you keep referring to Michigan Muslims as Palestinians?!

          Trump beat Hillary Clinton by less than 10,000 votes in Michigan in 2016, there are more than 40,000 American Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan alone, there are about three times that number state wide, and calling them “Palestinians” doesn’t only make them want to vote for the Democrats, it’s also factually incorrect.

          Read a book.

          1. I’m not. Tlaib referred to herself as a Palestinian. I find it obnoxious.

      2. Oh, shit, I just noticed that I accidentally posted only half the quote:

        “He doesn’t just see me as a Palestinian or Muslim, he sees me as someone who’s also against corporate greed,” Tlaib told Middle East Eye. “He sees me as an equal.”

        “I expect them to turn out,” Tlaib said about Michigan Muslims. “I know that if they go to the polls, they’ll vote for Sen. Sanders. I want them to deliver Michigan for Sen. Sanders.”

        The new version of the Washington Examiner website has some really weird bugs. I apologise for the confusion.

    2. I agree that all Michigan Muslims should vote for the Jewish candidate.

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  8. What a partisan post so this individual who apparently wrote this can glutton all day on various food trucks around the city and raise illegals as his own children who produce food for his pleasure.

    1. What a partisan post
      Yes. It’s truly shocking that such a thing could happen on an ostensibly Libertarian website.

      so this individual who apparently wrote this can glutton all day on various food trucks around the city
      Yes. He can eat all he wants. Restaurants. Food Trucks. His own kitchen (gasp!)

      And the rest of what you wrote it just plain stupid.

      1. TIL: “glutton” is a verb. ????

        1. Dammit, how do you get emojis to work on this site?

        2. That too. “Gluttonize” is the verb.

  9. Where was this city council when buggy whip manufacture was a viable business. If we had these people then, we would still have buggy whips.

    1. “…food trucks are a hallmark of a thriving city…” I find that an silly statement. Why food trucks and not unemployment rate, crime rate, homelessness, good public transportation, or affordable housing? I guess this author like food trucks. Me? Not so much as they are expensive for what you get and almost always not enough food for the dollar.

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  12. The headline used the word “crushing” in the opposite meaning of its modern parlance…..I read down expecting to see how awesome Greenville’s food truck scene was.

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