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Is it time for Hatteras Island to welcome food trucks?

Saturday 22 July 2017 at 12:33 am.

BY CATHERINE KOZAK

When I was an intern in the late 1980s covering the N.Y. State Legislature, I used to go outside every day on the Capitol square for lunch. The streets were lined with food trucks, serving all kinds of homemade fresh food. My favorite was the falafel and tabbouleh, but there were lots of other choices. As a lunch option, it was fast, cheap,delicious and healthy.

Over the decades since, food trucks have became all the rage and can now be found in practically every city and resort area. Some of the owner/chefs have become famous and rich. The genre even has been a popular feature on cable TV travel and cooking shows.

An Oct. 2016 article in Buzzfeed highlighted the top food trucks in North Carolina. Food offerings included tacos, BBQ, Asian dumplings and pho, pressed sandwiches, gourmet meats, grilled cheese, hot chicken, kabobs, gourmet burgers, and burritos.

But for a number of reasons, including zoning laws, food trucks are not something we see very often on the Outer Banks, unless it’s a special event. One notable exception is Eduardo’s Taco Truck on Ocracoke Island, which is parked by the Variety Store and has been a big hit with tourists.

Next month, the Dare County Board of Commissioners will consider recommendations that potentially could make it easier to run food trucks in unincorporated Dare County, which includes all of Hatteras Island, Colington Island, Roanoke Island and mainland Dare. It will not affect regulations on the trucks within the towns.

Steve and Sue Bonney, owners of Stu’s Donuts in Avon, asked the Dare County Planning Board earlier this year to address outmoded regulations that don’t allow them to operate their food truck. The planning board’s recommendations will be presented to commissioners at their Aug. 7 meeting.

The couple had purchased their truck with the intention selling hand-made donuts and gourmet hot dogs. The restaurant Ketch 55 Seafood Grill in Avon agreed to be affiliated with the food truck, a requirement of the state health department for mobile food units.

“Our unit had everything we needed,” Bonney said. “We found out from the Planning Board that we did not have the correct zoning.”

After going back and forth with planners about getting the regulation changed, the couple moved the entire operation inside the restaurant for the time being.

Bonney said he plans to make the case to the Commissioners to update the zoning. “We’ve had really good feedback so far,” Bonney said. “We’ve had lots of support from the community. Folks here on the island have been in our corner.”

According to minutes of the July Planning Board meeting, six residents, including the owner of Ketch 55, spoke favorably about food trucks.

No restaurateurs on the island have expressed opposition to his food truck, he said. He is optimistic that the zoning update will let him go back to his original plan to operate out of his truck on the Ketch 55 property. Meanwhile, the couple is using the truck for their catering business.

One of the concerns about food trucks is that they create unfair competition for restaurants, which have much higher overhead than the mobile eateries. Although Bonney said he understands that viewpoint, the reality is that food trucks would offer different fare for customers. Since a mobile operation would have to have an arrangement with a restaurant facility, he said, logically the restaurant would not want direct competition.

Plus, it would fill a niche for the public. Judging by the incredible volume of hungry vacationers in the summer, and the often long lines at restaurants, there appears to be more than enough customers for such no-frills eateries.

“It sounds like we’re starting to step into the 21st century,” Bonney said. “You’ve got variety. You’ve got something quick you can take away.”

Dare County Planning Director Donna Creef said that in discussions with Bonney, it became evident that some older zoning districts defined food trucks differently than newer districts.

Changes the planning board is recommending, Creef said, include amendments to definitions of food trucks – food vending designed to be moved – and food stands – an establishment that serves food, but provides no more than seating for eight people – that make them consistent with newer zoning districts and state definitions. All mobile units, she added, would be subject to health department regulations and site plan approvals. The proposed changes would have no impact on the operation of ice cream trucks.

Creef said that she has received “a fair amount” of phone calls from people who are interested in operating what are officially known as mobile food units.

“Food trucks are growing in popularity throughout North Carolina and throughout the U.S.,” she said. “This is not something we’ve done without the benefit of any thought, or that’s just a knee-jerk reaction.”

After the Planning Board submits its recommendations, the Board of Commissioners has the option of scheduling a public hearing on the matter at a future meeting. Only after the hearing can the commissioners vote on whether to accept the recommended zoning change.

“We will find out at the public hearing whether the public wants this,” Creef said of the food trucks. “People seem to want an alternative. Based on my research, they’re extremely popular.”

39 comments

Salvo Jimmy

We already basically have one. The Mexican trailer (Taqueria Las Ahumaderas) in the Sting Wray’s restaurant parking lot in Rodanthe. Great food and does not seem to hurt Sting Wray’s. Been there for 2, maybe 3 yrs.

Salvo Jimmy - 22-07-’17 03:01
bbc

bring eduardo’s to buxton……..please

bbc - 22-07-’17 14:02
Denny in Dayton

The problem I see with food trucks is they are avoiding the overhead brick and mortar restaurants have to pay, property tax in particular. When I look at all the failed/closed restaurants particularly in Hatteras village I question whether this is a good idea or not, unless the county does something to level the playing field.

Denny in Dayton - 22-07-’17 16:31
lowtide

Please make it illegal for food trucks to play music on loudspeakers to draw attention…..the ice cream van going by three times a day is already annoying enough!

lowtide - 22-07-’17 21:19
dave

Yes. If the entrepreneurs are willing to invest in the expense of coming down island, sourcing food, storing and maintaining kitchen vehicles here, and meeting all Code, yes, by all means let them come and do business.

dave - 22-07-’17 22:21
Hatrasfevr

Is it just possible that people come to HI for vacation to get away from big shopping centers, traffic, honky-tonks, fast food on every corner and of all things food trucks? Is it possible that people come to HI to vacation, slow down a little, take time to relax, have meals together on the beach or at local restaurants rather than keep up the fast pace they have at home? Gosh can HI be immunized from the things we run away from to relax as we have for the last 40 years?

Hatrasfevr - 23-07-’17 17:48
Charles Peele

Remember a decade ago when Manteo did not allow McDonald to open a second drive through lane?

Charles Peele - 23-07-’17 17:50
Sally Mae

Yes, absolutely! Wonderful way to encourage menu diversity – food choices on the island are lacking. Good way to support budding entrepreneurs. Nice alternative for families unable to afford the steep prices at most island restaurants.

Sally Mae - 24-07-’17 00:43
Rusty

Most of the restaurants on Hatteras Island are overpriced with poor food. Given the seasonal nature of the islands would be a great way to add some quality dining options.

Rusty - 24-07-’17 00:47
why only food truck?

How about a mobile surf shop, a mobile souvenier shop, a mobile kiteboard shop, tackle shop, donut shop, flip flop shop, sunglasses shop? They could blast in for the summer and head to Miami for the winter and anither selling season. Now think of the ramification of it all. Best to think this one through real good.

why only food truck? - 24-07-’17 02:19
Rolan Rollison

Rusty; You couldn’t be more wrong about our restaurants and their food. Icons like Sonny’s serve the best food on the planet! Sally Mae; the word diversity is something you can keep up north. Just read about what a mess our nations capital has become with dozens of diverse Roach Coaches near the Mall! Want diversity, go to Detroit!

Rolan Rollison - 24-07-’17 21:19
gsurf

Mobile food is not going to be good for our local restaurants for the various reasons listed in the comments. I can see mobile everything coming our way to match the ice cream truck that blasts music throughout the tri-villages. Seems everyone wants to come here and push their ideas on to us.

gsurf - 24-07-’17 21:25
DennyInDayton

“Why only food trucks” hit exactly what my concern is. Mobile groceries, mobile hardware stores, mobile gas stations, mobile motels, run all the islanders out of business. Wasn’t part of NPS argument for the parks creation the locals benefiting from tourism?

The island restaurants provide not only a tax base themselves, but employ islanders. Many of these food trucks could come from off island, transient businesses competing with the locals and not paying property taxes and I’m not sure how their income taxes would be divided. If from out of state will NC collect?

The local businesses have to make their money pretty much during the summer to survive, let alone remain open during the off season. If food trucks come in and poach during the prime season, there may fewer fixed local restaurants, which means fewer locals employees and reduced taxes to Dare County.

Maybe the mobile school trucks will come in? Doubt it. What will happen then will be the county will have to raise taxes on everyone else to make up the difference.

There will also be fewer if any restaurants open during the off season because the trucks won’t hang around they will go cherry pick where the business is better.

Funny thing about this hipster food truck fad, I’ve been in contracting for years and we’ve had food trucks for decades. We always called them “Roach Coaches”.

DennyInDayton - 24-07-’17 23:39
Island Girl

Maybe the opinions and hypothiclals will consider going to the public opinion after the commissioners meeting or even going to the commissioners meeting as well. As a restaurant owner on Hatteras Island I am not opposed. First a mobile food unit has to be approved by the county with a restaurant as a commissary which means they will have the same regulations and inspections as a restaurant.

Island Girl - 25-07-’17 04:43
DennyInDayton

Allow me to expand, from Dare Co. public tax records. One of my favorite eateries is the Frisco Sandwich shop. Their Dare County tax records indicate they pay $1,244.42 Dare County tax, plus 161.77 to the Frisco Fire District, plus 27.78 to Hatteras Island Rescue, plus 298.08 to the Sanitation District for a total of $1,732.05. Will a food truck pay any of this?

The county needs to make sure the playing field is level, tax food trucks similarly, or reduce them for brick and mortar restaurants.

DennyInDayton - 25-07-’17 05:48
salvo jimmy

First “food truck” I can remember on HI was many moons ago with a guy in a pickup driving thru the neighborhood selling sea food, particularly crabs.

Re “Roach Coaches”.. We had them around the Navy bases and shipyards, called the same.

Re food trucks coming from off island. Nothing would prevent a local from doing one. Think Crazy Johnny’s BBQ trailer out of Buxton. Good Eastern NC stuff, BTW.

salvo jimmy - 25-07-’17 15:34
Buxton Resident

Yes Denny, I agree. Food trucks will be able to offer food at cheaper prices because their overhead is lower for many reasons and in the winter they can pick up and go to Florida and open shop down there and capitalize off their “high season”. There are so many reasons why we don’t want food trucks I will not be able to list them all. My first question is do the towns allow them? If not why and why would the situation be different for the unincorporated areas of Dare. To me that would make it a case closed, not even up for debate. Are the unincorporated areas of Dare County lesser then the towns? Do we not deserve the same esthetics? Are you trying to ruin what HI is all about? Is our scenic byway not as good or as important as theirs? One or two trucks on HI might not cause much disturbance but the problem is if you allow one you have to allow all.
Yes food trucks do directly compete with the existing restaurants Mr. and Mrs. Bonnie. Catch 55 does not do breakfast but everyone else who does on HI will be in direct competition with you as you described a breakfast offering. Remember The Dolphin Den was falling apart but someone bought it and fixed it up and opened a business. Remember the pink “crack house look alike with the tall weeds and vines in the front” across the street from the Avon Pier? Why would they have gone through all the trouble and expense of fixing up an eye sore when they could have just bought a food truck and served breakfast fare. Everyone on HI benefits when someone buys and fixes up a dilapidating building. Why would someone go through all that expense and trouble if food trucks are allowed to “pop up” when ever and where ever they are allowed. Who benefits from a food truck from Florida that came up to capitalize on our “high season”? I don’t think you can legally limit food truck operations to the local residences. If the burrito truck in the tri villages bought/rented and fixed up JoBobs instead of buying their food truck it would benefit HI in many ways but who does the food truck benefit? Here is a simple made up scenario to walk you though the possibilities. Remember this is made up by me but could/would happen if food trucks are allowed. Angelos Pizza, who has been serving pizza in our community for over 25 years, supporting our students and community. Who often offers steep discounts on pizza in the winter and if I recall correctly worked their tail off to get open after hurricane Irene to help feed us now has to compete with a pizza truck who parked across the street at The Point Restaurant. This Pizza truck came down from Charlotte NC to capitalize off our “high season” and will go back in September. They can operate and park right across the street because The Point Restaurant figures they can charge the pizza truck 3,000 to be “affiliated” and park in their parking lot; an easy 3 grand for 3 months, I get it. (Remember I made this scenario up for example purposes only, my apologies to The Point Restaurant and no I am not affiliated with Angelos pizza). What does this pizza truck contribute to our community? At best cheaper pizza for the summer, at worst a painted over rusty eye sore truck that does not clean up their customer’s trash. Since this pizza truck operates in cash very little taxes are paid. In a perfect world all the food trucks are nice shinny new but have you seen the ice cream trucks driving around HI lately. Does our tourist complain that our restaurants are over priced? If not why do we want food trucks? If you want to open up an Indian Restaurant to offer the tourists something different, great, there are plenty of vacant spots on HI for rent. If you want to open a business buy/rent a store, fit it up and if you work real hard you may succeed. If you don’t have the money to do it this year, work your tail off and save your money and open it next year.
Owning a business on HI is not easy, you’ve got a very limited amount of time to make 12 months of business expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities etc) and 12 months of personal expenses. Add in the July 4th hurricanes its enough to make you question your way of life. I am not complaining as we all chose to do what we do every day but I am stating that we don’t need to make it harder.
I think the county also needs to consider limiting the number of art shows on HI, there is one every week called the farmers market (90 percent of the tents are selling non farmer stuff; basically it’s an art show). Many times there are two and three different art shows in a week. How is that helpful to the many galleries on HI? The food trucks are to restaurants as what art shows are to galleries. There is no difference. Most of the tents at the “farmers market” come from up the beach. They come down to HI to capitalize off our “high season” then they stay up the beach during the HI off season. The towns up the beach are just about year round communities so they can still sell their art up there in the winter but the galleries on HI are closed because there are no people buying art in the winter on HI but the rent is still due. Etc.
I know everyone has their own point of view on things and everyone is entitled to them. I shared mine, please share yours, this is potentially a big change both visually and economically for HI. I hope the commissioners will stand up for the brick and mortar stores…. Its what makes HI what it is.

Buxton Resident - 25-07-’17 17:50
Sally Mae

A nice diverse mix of brick and mortar restaurants and food truck would only serve to enhance the Hatteras Island food scene. Brick and mortar food establishments worth their salt have nothing to fear. Let’s try to think past protecting the status quo, look down the road, and consider that a food truck might be a business option for a young person with strong culinary skills and a strong business sense who wants to make the island his or her home but not enough start-up funds to rent and restore or to construct a building.

Sally Mae - 25-07-’17 20:33
Tom Cain

I could be wrong, but, my reading of most of the criticism sounds like folks who aren’t familiar with modern high quality food trucks. Having lived in other places where they thrive, the quality and variety of offerings is welcomed. These are not roach coaches. Like any competitive market, the best will do well and the garbage will disappear. These trucks don’t operate primarily on cash, as a previous poster stated. In fact, the rise of the Square credit card payment system has had a major impact on making these mobile businesses viable. I welcome the variety!

Tom Cain - 25-07-’17 22:39
Buxton Resident

Tom Cain, Have you seen the ice cream trucks on HI? Yes I am familiar with high quality food trucks but that’s not what happens here…. So yes, you could be wrong. I hope not.

Buxton Resident - 26-07-’17 05:19
Buxton Resident

Sally Mae, just saw on craigslist Capt. Rollo’s is for sale in Frisco for 70k, about the cost of a modern food truck, There is plenty of opportunity here, you just need to look for it. No need to reinvent the wheel. I like change for the better; I don’t like change for the worst. Respectfully yours

Buxton Resident - 26-07-’17 05:33
Salvo Jimmy

Tom Cain,

Roach Coach was just a name in my experience and had little to do with quality. Some were good, some not so good.

BTW some of the best street food I’ve had was a grinder from a vendor at lunch on Thames St outside the Electric Boat shipyard. Grinder being the local name for a sub sandwich.

Salvo Jimmy - 26-07-’17 14:20
Salvo Jimmy

Forgot to mention an awesome food truck in the Richmond VA area. Mrs Yoder’s Donuts. Best donut ever. They are sourdough. Don’t seem to hurt the likes of Dunkin, Krispy Kreme or Duck, all in the area.

Salvo Jimmy - 26-07-’17 14:26
Salvo Jimmy

Oh, and the ice cream truck going thru Salvo doesn’t seem to have hurt the Village Connery. Both been around for years.

Salvo Jimmy - 26-07-’17 14:31
Avon property owner

I think an ice cream truck driving the island is different and say a bagel/coffee truck sitting all summer long across the street from a coffee/bagel shop, don’t you? If Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, KDH, Nags Head and Manteo all restrict food trucks for special events only there are good reasons, Don’t you?

Avon property owner - 26-07-’17 16:45
Salvo Jimmy

BR

What’s to say a successor to Capt Rollo would survive any better.

Wonder how much renovation would be needed over the 70k since that building has been around since it was Bubbas decades ago.

Just sayin’

BTW wonder what the cost of a burrito would be in Rodanthe if those folks had invested in Jo Bobs

Salvo Jimmy - 26-07-’17 17:05
Sally Mae

Allowing food trucks would offer entrepreneurs options and that’s important, especially as business models evolve to keep pace with changes and trends in the food service industry. It is difficult to compare 70K for Capt. Rollos and for a modern food truck without knowing what the price for Rollos includes, i.e. building, equipment, etc. BTW, are the ice cream trucks sanctioned by the county? Those seem to also fall into the transient vendor category that, I thought, wasn’t permitted here.

Sally Mae - 26-07-’17 19:23
Salvo Jimmy

Dizzy Ice trucks is out of Avon

https://www.facebook.com/Dizzys-Ice-Cream-Trucks-709254895793896/

Salvo Jimmy - 26-07-’17 20:48
DennyInDayton

Before Bubbas and Captain Rollo, that place was a hamburger hot dog and ice cream place. The screened front end got enclosed. 1970’s.

There used to be many ice cream places. There was one near where “the point” restaurant is, about where the Shell and “modern” honky tonk is. And for the record, where “the Point” is was a grocery store (anyone remember that?). There was also an ice cream place in Buxton about where the new Exxon station is, that was about 1968-9, I can date that because I remember being in there with The Who’s new album Tommy playing.

As someone who ran restaurants in the mid 80’s in Chicago, I can tell you used equipment is about 10 cents on the dollar. Restaurants are one of the most risky investments, good luck getting a bank loan, you have to prove you don’t need the loan to get the loan.

The whole problem in Hatteras is it’s a very limited market. You have to make your money in a 4 month period. Food trucks would be predators, able to make money the other 8 months of the year, this would allow them to come in during the summer months and work on smaller margins than the locals. THAT’S THE PROBLEM.

On the Island there are a limited number of people, with a limited amount of dollars chasing services. It’s called “economics” and it’s a law, no different than gravity. The more you divide those dollars up, the less likely businesses will succeed. It’s simple.

Sally Mae if you don’t want local food, but want other offerings, GET OUT OF HERE! I hear Disney World in Orlando has all kinds of offerings. Maybe Hatteras Island isn’t for you. Have you ever thought of that? I don’t come to Hatteras to eat NY City hot dogs, or Boston whatever. I WANT LOCAL FARE.

I’m actually sitting here looking at an old advertising flier from 1986. Not sure who put it out. But it’s a “street map of Hatteras Island”. It lists and shows many of the businesses, most gone. Didn’t strike me as that old, but it’s 31 years old. Now I’m feeling old. Wish I could post it.

I’m not completely opposed to food trucks, I just think the county better look at how to keep the playing field level otherwise local fare will cease to exist and we’ll have the same food as Virginia Beach.

DennyInDayton - 27-07-’17 05:38
Salvo Jimmy

Hey Denny,

You’re into all that “LOCAL FARE” sushi that’s cropped up all over the island, right??? LOL

Salvo Jimmy - 27-07-’17 19:42
Salvo Jimmy

Sorry, forgot to mention another “food truck” on island.

The snow ball trailer that resides beside the Connery when not in use.

Salvo Jimmy - 27-07-’17 19:45
no really good food

Just because its local fare, that does not mean its good food. Considering the available source for fresh seafood, Hatteras should have the best seafood restaurants in the world. These brick and mortar restaurants really need to up their game beyond frozen then fried food, “sushi grade” tuna delights and clam soup with a beef bullion cube.
Even the worst dive should be able to serve simple and plain seafood
that even a Parisian chef would call magnificent because of its freshness. Of course there are a couple of menu items in a couple of restaurants that are simple and wonderful exceptions, but mostly its all lousy food at the highest price possible to make it through the down months.

no really good food - 27-07-’17 22:25
buxton gourmound

As far as taking the money and running, how many brick and mortar proprietors head south during the winter ? Local fare ? The best seafood gets shipped out for a better price. As a local I would welcome another source of dining. Competition is usually good and if the trucks sell a better product than the brick and mortar places, maybe that will force the owners to step up their game. God forbid a business stays open all winter.

buxton gourmound - 27-07-’17 23:44
Salvo Jimmy

Yep, nrgf

Local fare from the Sysco truck, or equivalent.

Salvo Jimmy - 28-07-’17 15:57
Jack

Although most of our taste change over the years, I really miss the restaurants of the 70’s and 80’s Billy’s Fish House, Gray’s and the list went on. And the fare? Fried Fish, French Fries and Hush Puppies. Fresh, local and good. Now most of the current restaurants are just serving the local seafood ‘broiled’. Nothing fancy and nothing very impressive, but a lot more expensive then when the dusted and dunked the same fish. I understand the cost of everything rises, but the quality surely hasn’t kept up with the prices. I’ve been to our most expensive restaurants and watched their menu’s go down in quality. One used to have the best Prime Rib and great sides, now the Prime Rib is passable at best and the sides are not at all appetizing. I’ve watched year after year some of these brick an mortar change owners and menu’s and last only one season. I don’t mind expensive food bills, but I’d really like to see some imagination but into their presentations. And Food Trucks need to stay next to the College Campus or Construction site.
If you want to add a truck to the list, how about a truck full of good house keepers…

Jack - 29-07-’17 00:12
long time resident

I see most of the points made for food trucks assume great cooks will offer different foods at lower prices. That is a huge assumption and I’d say very unlikely. Judging by the uncreative business mind set around here (if you see a business doing well, copy it) all you’ll get from food trucks is the same old at the same old prices. What is most likely to happen is all the “up the beach” food trucks that are only allowed to operate up there for special events come down here and set up shop. A very bad thing for the local economy. It will be just another way to put more pressure on local businesses and to suck our tourist dollars off the island.

long time resident - 30-07-’17 12:24
Buxtoner

Food trucks offer variety not available in the current selection of “standard vacation fare” restaurants. Those of us who live here would love to have a place to grab something quick when on lunch break, when we are working, or at the end of a long day without facing the wait time in restaurants. This would be really terrific. I think you would find that people just skip making a sandwich at home and actually spend money on the island instead.

Buxtoner - 31-07-’17 17:34
bbc

we hit the food trucks when we travel because they present food (usually ethnic) that isn’t available in the local restaurants, and we patronize both.

bbc - 04-08-’17 00:25

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