As every hot dog with homemade chili sauce and bag of fresh-cut fries that goes out the window of Mike’s Minis in Atlantic Beach, owner Mike Byer has one goal in mind.
“This is kind of like a stepping stone,” said the Albany, N.Y., native. “We do have some plans to hopefully open a Mike’s Minis restaurant. It’s a great stepping stone. Of course, I would still keep the trailer.”
Byer is one of a handful of mobile food vendors in cities and towns around Horry County. He closely followed Horry County’s attempt at passing a mobile food vending ordinance, which failed earlier this month for a variety of reasons, including concerns that they’d pose too much competition for permanent restaurants.
“This nonsense about ‘they’re a threat to restaurants,’ as far as I’m concerned, is ignorance,” Byer said. “Restaurants have 40 to 50 items on their menu and a food truck usually has between three to five products. I’ve never had a restaurant owner disagree with me after I explained it that way.”
Though County Council voted the mobile food truck idea down after a committee spent nearly a year researching and surveying the public, an Horry County leader says the idea isn’t completely dead and the man who sparked the conversation said he’s not ready to back down.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said if two-thirds of the council votes to re-consider it at a future meeting, it can still come back for discussion.
“It could come back in another form, such as [Councilman Harold] Worley said, the roach coaches with packaged meals and not prepared meals,” Lazarus said. “From some of the things I’m hearing now, it looks to me like Horry County may not have been the appropriate place for them to be coming to. It seems like they should be going to the municipalities. It seems to me like it’s more feasible and there’s more opportunity to be successful if you were downtown Conway, or downtown Myrtle Beach, or Loris or Aynor where the business community is. Their thought was good, but where they went, they probably shouldn’t have started with Horry County.”
Myrtle Beach and Conway already have mobile food truck ordinances. Myrtle Beach currently has seven mobile food license vendors that sell prepackaged items, said Mark Kruea, spokesman for the city.
Lazarus said he has also heard some food truck vendors talk about wanting to set up in parking lots at businesses, which is currently doable.
“All they have to do is a catering contract, I would think,” Lazarus said. “That’s for their specific place and not for the general public. They’re catering for their employees.”
Karl Moser, the food truck owner who prompted the council’s conversation on food trucks, has mobile food vendor licenses from Conway and Myrtle Beach. He said he would have liked the council to have approved the ordinance because he thinks he could have been successful with a truck along the U.S. 501 corridor between Myrtle Beach and Conway.
Moser said the council should have given the program a shot just based on the 4,000 people who said via survey that they wanted the food trucks here.
“It’s just sad that the County Council went against their constituents and what the people wanted,” Moser said. “They were more concerned with unfair competition to brick and mortar restaurants. If you’re worried about a food truck, I would re-examine your business plan because something’s not right.”
Moser said the argument that some council members brought up regarding people investing in a mobile food business only for it to be canceled in one year is a risk that’s clear to prospective business owners.
“The people coming into this know straight up this is under a pilot program,” Moser said. “If you do it, you know from the get-go that this may happen in one year.”
Moser said more work is being done to bring the issue back to the table. “It’s not over with.”