It surely was something of a shock for many of the hundreds of Horry County restaurant owners to learn that the County Council wants to protect restaurateurs’ profits.
That was the thinking expressed Oct. 7 when a majority of the council trashed a one-year mobile food vending pilot program. Council members Bob Grabowski, Brent Schulz and Jody Prince supported the pilot program, which had been in the works for months.
Councilman Harold Worley, who represents the North Myrtle Beach area including much of Little River, said the proposed ordinance before the council was “... just too much, too soon. You can say what you want to, it’s going to hurt brick and mortar.”
Really? Operators of food trucks in cities and towns point out that it’s nonsense to consider food trucks a threat to restaurants. Mike Byer, who operates a mobile business in Atlantic Beach, tells The Sun News reporter Jason Rodriguez that restaurants typically have 40 to 50 items on their menus and a food truck three to five.
Even if restaurants were to lose sales to food trucks, the proper role of county government is not to protect one type of food business over others. To be fair, Worley did say he’d be in favor of allowing food trucks going to job sites. So why not continue to discuss the matter and tweak the proposed ordinance, rather than the 9-3 vote to stop the pilot program in its tracks.
The proposal would change a 2010 ordinance that allows push carts and bigger food trucks during special events. The proposed ordinance would have opened up mobile vending in areas zoned office, professional, industrial and commercial, 200 feet from permanent restaurants. County ordinances apply to unincorporated areas, such as Little River. Cities (Conway, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach) and towns (Atlantic Beach, Surfside Beach) regulate such matters within their borders.
In the discussion on Oct. 7, Councilman Prince, who voted for the program, pointed out that he’d had positive feedback about mobile vending from brick and mortar restaurants. Some owners could envision expanding their current operations with food trucks perhaps offering a few of the restaurants’ popular items. That’s a similar take on Byer’s plan to one day open a restaurant, using his Atlantic Beach mobile operation as a stepping stone.
Karl Moser has mobile food vendor licenses in Conway and Myrtle Beach and initiated the county council’s consideration because he saw potential for a food truck in the unincorporated U.S. 501 corridor between Conway and Myrtle Beach. Moser, by the way, has no problem with a one-year pilot program, about which Councilman Marion Foxworth had expressed concern. “We either do it or don’t do it,” he said, rather than the pilot program that might last only a year.
County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus and the nine members whose votes halted expansion of mobile food services in unincorporated areas should think about the many places where trucks would provide wanted food service. As Moser suggests, council members should not ignore the 4,000 people who said in a survey that they wanted food trucks.
Moser also makes an excellent point on Worley’s concern about unfair competition to brick and mortar: “If you’re worried about a food truck, I would re-examine your business plan because something’s not right.”
Much is not right regarding the county council’s vote to stop the food truck idea after months of research and public input. The proposal needs to be discussed again, this time with council members taking off their blinkers. Side vision can be a good thing.