Listen to Randy Twyford’s interview with Sam Madonna of Sports Radio 1550
A couple dozen employees from downtown businesses and students in navy-blue Illinois FFA jackets lined up Wednesday afternoon to order pulled-pork sandwiches and tacos from two food trucks outside the Bank of Springfield Convention Center.
Hungry convention attendees found the Twyford BBQ and Az-T-Ca trucks set up on Washington Street, the opposite side of the center from where they parked Tuesday.
City officials instructed the food vendors to move their operations from Adams Street to Washington on Tuesday, after the mayor’s office received complaints. Some worry the move is an indication of shifting policy that may make it harder for food trucks to operate in the capital city.
“If we’re not careful, we’re not going to be able to be in Springfield,” said Randy Twyford, who owns the BBQ truck. “Even though Springfield says we’re welcoming.”
Under city rules, which passed unanimously two years ago, food trucks must park a minimum of 50 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants in the downtown area, and at least 300 feet from them outside downtown. There are exceptions for downtown events and festivals — the Old Capitol Farmer’s market, for example.
Mobile food vendors are required to obtain a $250 permit from the city to operate. They also must get a license and follow rules laid out by the Sangamon County Department of Public Health.
The spot on Adams Street where Twyford’s truck initially complied with the 50-foot rule.
The spots where the BBQ and Az-T-Ca trucks were parked were also on a pre-approved list of around 18 spaces for food trucks throughout the downtown released by the city’s public works department in January. Vendors made suggestions for the list at a meeting with economic development and public works staff in December aimed at encouraging mobile food vendor operations.
With the pre-approved spots, vendors can apply for a permit to use them at least 24 hours in advance on a first-come, first-serve basis and pay the meter fee for the day.
The Illinois Association FFA convention organizers asked that the mobile food vendors be there this week to provide another option for meals for attendees, and the vendors promised to donate a percentage of their sales back to the organization that was formerly known as Future Farmers of America.
Mayor Jim Langfelder said he received complaints about the food trucks’ location Tuesday and instructed public works officials to tell the vendors to move to the north side of the convention center.
“It puts our restaurants at a competitive disadvantage,” the mayor said when Tywford confronted officials about the change at Tuesday night’s city council committee of the whole meeting.
“You have the Wyndham (Hotel) right there and Saputo’s down the street,” Langfelder continued. “We heard complaints from entities that people aren’t moving around downtown like they should.”
The “viable solution” to address the complaints was to move the food trucks, Langfelder said.
The public works department does have the discretion to prohibit food vendors from parking in certain areas, even if they meet city rules, according to the city attorney.
But to some, that misses the point.
Kendra Cooper, co-owner of Cooper’s StrEATside Bistro, said the key to a good business environment is consistency in enforcing the rules.
The bistro began as a food truck, and then expanded to a location at King Pins Lanes on Sangamon Avenue. The truck still offers lunch at the Old Capitol Farmers Market most Wednesday and Saturdays.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey you can set up here,’ and then a complaint comes in and say, ‘You need to move now,’ when everything was done correctly,” Cooper said.
— Contact Mary Hansen: 788-1528, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/maryfhansen.
*Correction: Cooper’s StrEATside Bistro’s location is at King Pin Lanes on Sangamon Avenue, and the Old Capitol Farmers Market is held on Saturdays. A previous version of the story misreported the location.