Food trucks in Horry County: Is there a need?

jrodriguez@thesunnews.comDecember 3, 2013 

— The Horry County Planning Department wants to hear from business owners in the county, those who may be interested in operating food trucks, and from people who would benefit if the trucks were in the county, before it moves forward with drafting an ordinance to regulate the trucks.

County officials plan to wait until after the new year to host a public meeting that will allow stakeholders – existing business owners, potential business owners and potential customers – to say whether they support opening the Grand Strand’s bustling food industry to mobile food trucks, which feature warm or pre-packaged foods. A date for the meeting has not been set.

The ultimate question is: Is there a need?

In 2010, the county adopted an ordinance that allows for smaller push carts, like hot dog stands. It allows for bigger mobile food trucks during special events, said Janet Carter, director of planning.

“It is something that has picked up in popularity across the country and there are a lot of positives and, of course, some negatives too,” Carter told a county committee recently.

Councilman Paul Prince said one of those negatives could be how close the county allows the mobile food trucks to existing businesses.

“I do have a problem if a vendor sets up there and takes business away from these kinds of businesses that are established and paid for,” Prince said. “If it’s out in a rural area, I’d hate to see someone just pull up and get in between and set up a temporary business by a business that’s already there.”

Carter said that is something to consider.

“That’s always been a concern,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest concerns... I will say there are a lot of jurisdictions who have been able to work this out quite successfully and usually that’s done with spacing.”

Karl Moser, an Horry County resident who brought the mobile food truck issue to the forefront at the County Council’s most recent meeting, said municipalities across the nation address the mobile food truck industry with spacing requirements, such as 300-500 feet away from an existing business and spacing regulations from stop lights and fire hydrants. He said a mobile food truck can be a vital food source for those who work late at night and do not have time to find food during a half-hour lunch break.

“You’re usually there about five to 10 minutes and then you go to your next spot,” Moser said of the vendors. “It gives good competition, but it can be regulated very well.”

Just how popular are mobile food vendors now in an area that has more than 1,800 restaurants along a 60-mile stretch along the Grand Strand?

Brand Dean, president and CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said it’s not an issue the chamber has taken a stance on and not something the board has looked into.

Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, said the city has had an ordinance regulating mobile food trucks for a while now and it gained popularity in the mid-2000s when high rises were being built along Ocean Boulevard and construction workers were looking for quick meals. But, Kruea said, there are no mobile food trucks currently registered with the city.

“The food trucks have become quite popular in some communities,” Kruea said. “People will follow some food trucks, you can get an app on your telephone and find the food that you like. But we have so many great restaurants in the area, that we haven’t seen the need for mobile restaurants... The competition would be steep, I think.”

“Right now there doesn’t seem to be much demand for it, but that could change.”

And that’s one of the worries Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus has with the proposed ordinance. When he asked Moser what type of market study was done to see if the mobile food truck will be successful, Moser said it is more word of mouth than scientific study.

“You might perceive there’s a need, but does the customer perceive there’s a need?” Loftus asked. “I’d hate to go through this and end up with two food trucks that are gone within six months.”

Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.

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