Food truck fever

Regulation to be discussed for local mobile eateries

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Philippe Riviere prepares a savory crepe for a customer Monday during his shift at the food truck crepe vendor Coeur de Breizh. The city is considering a mobile food truck ordinance.

COEUR d'ALENE - Concerns about safety, public health and business competition have city officials considering the creation of an ordinance to regulate the growing food truck industry in Coeur d'Alene.

The city is hosting a public workshop on the issue Wednesday morning from 8:30-9:30 in the Old Council Chambers at City Hall, 710 Mullan Ave.

A new ordinance would apply to all food vendors doing business in the city, regardless of where they are parked. The city's existing law applies to mobile concessions doing business on city property only, mainly ice cream trucks which sell their wares on public streets.

Councilman Dan Gookin said since he took office, he has received many calls from citizens who are concerned about the proliferation of mobile businesses in the Lake City.

"I have had a concern with it, that it's growing out of control," Gookin said.

An incident last January, when two men put a table outside a convenience store across the street from Lakes Magnet Middle School and began selling knives, motivated Gookin to ramp up his efforts to see a mobile merchant licensing law on the books.

"It turned out there was really nothing we could do about it," Gookin said.

The table-top knife sales were being done on private property, and fell outside the city's laws regarding mobile vendors.

The police eventually shut down the business based on a city ordinance requiring anyone selling merchandise - other than plants - to have a permit.

Gookin said the more he looked into the issue - and talked to the heads of the city's fire, police and wastewater treatment departments - the more concerned he became.

"These guys are cooking. Where are they dumping their graywater?" Gookin said.

There are always concerns about potential fire hazards, he said.

"What if someone comes in and sells a bunch of bogus jewelry and cuts out of town?" Gookin said. "That's a safety issue."

Heather Riviere, a neophyte in the mobile food vendor industry, rolled out her business May 10. It is a gourmet crepe cafe on wheels, named Coeur de Breizh.

Riviere sees the possibility of an ordinance regulating businesses like hers as a positive, as evidence that the city is embracing the burgeoning industry.

She said she would like to see the city dedicate space to the mobile food vendors, in a location where they wouldn't threaten any existing restaurants.

"I know there will be a financial requirement attached to it (a new ordinance.) I just hope that whatever they do, that it doesn't discourage others from starting food truck businesses in Coeur d'Alene," Riviere said.

Mobile food merchants like Riviere are required in Kootenai County to hold mobile food service licenses issued by the Panhandle Health District. They are subject to inspections, the same way restaurants and other food service establishments are in the county. A full list of restaurant inspection results, including those from mobile food businesses, can be found on the health district website: bit.ly/FoodInspections_CDAPress.

"We have had several inspections since we opened," Riviere said.

Kathleen Brinson, owner of Arctic Kat - a mobile espresso and ice cream business which operates in Coeur d'Alene - said she doesn't want to see a lot of new regulations and fees applied to local, mobile food vendors.

Brinson said the city of Coeur d'Alene's existing ordinance for businesses operating on city streets and public property is enough. Brinson pays the city a monthly fee of $50 in the summer, and $25 during the winter, to be able to sell her products on Coeur d'Alene's streets.

"What it has done is, it has prevented the people from Spokane from coming over here and doing business in Coeur d'Alene," Brinson said. "We have to deal with them in Hayden, Rathdrum and Post Falls, though."

Brinson said she thinks the $50/$25 policy should simply be expanded to include trucks on private property.

Another reason to consider beefing up the city's mobile vendor ordinance: the town's brick-and-mortar restaurants don't look favorably on competing with food trucks.

Deputy City Clerk Kathy Lewis said the city hears about it often from restaurant owners who complain about having to pay more money to do business in the city than their mobile peers. The permanent restaurants are required to provide restroom facilities and be fully accessible to people with disabilities, she said.

"They pay sewer cap fees if they have outdoor seating," Lewis said. "Now a lot of the trucks are putting out chairs and tables."

Gookin said the non-mobile restaurants also pay property taxes, and adhere to other city ordinances.

"Then there's a guy across the street selling hot dogs out of a truck," he said. "I want to see us level that playing field and add some public safety elements."

Heather Riviere, who owns Coeur de Breizh, sees the possibility of an ordinance regulating businesses like hers as a positive, as evidence that the city is embracing the burgeoning industry.

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