Food truck program coming to downtown Dover

Two men order lunch from the Hungry Spork food truck on Legislative Mall last month. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Food trucks have been all the craze in many downtown areas and at special events across the country.

Now, the city of Dover wants in on the action.

In an effort to tighten its grip on the regulation of food trucks and to offer more dining choices to people working or visiting downtown, Dover is set to establish a Pilot Mobile Food Truck Program just after the start of 2018.

Dover City Council gave support to the City Manager’s Office to start the pilot program during the Legislative, Finance and Administration Committee meeting at City Hall on Tuesday evening.

Kirby Hudson, Dover’s assistant city manager, said Dover’s food truck program will mirror one that he has watched achieve success in downtown Wilmington.

“The food truck program in Wilmington is a huge success,” Mr. Hudson said. “It actually got people out of the office, engaged them out in front, and I hope that this will be a perfect way for us to stimulate the (downtown Dover) area and be perfect for the public.”

The Pilot Mobile Food Truck Program was originally requested by the City Manager’s Office to last 30 business days. However, City Councilman Roy Sudler Jr. proposed a 90-day trial period during Tuesday’s meeting, which was seconded by Councilman David Anderson and moved by council committee vote.

If the pilot program is deemed to be successful, the city’s objective would be to make the food truck program permanent.

Taking a cue from Wilmington

David Sophrin, policy analyst for the Office of the Mayor for the city of Wilmington, addressed some of the concerns that some members of the committee had, particularly questions that may be raised by owners of existing restaurants in downtown Dover.

“There’s a fair amount of research that’s already been done on this topic and we generally push back on the idea that this is a zero-sum game and any additional eatery that appears will be one less consumer for an existing restaurant,” Mr. Sophrin said.

“We think there’s a large number of people, at least in Wilmington, who don’t come out of those (downtown work) buildings so much.

“We believe that by getting them outside, particularly people who have typically worked there for 10 or 20 years, if they come out for lunch then they’ll see the existing restauarants and that increased exposure will be good for all.”

Mr. Hudson said he has not yet approached existing restaurant owners in downtown Dover about their opinions regarding food trucks and has yet to advertise the food truck program.

He said he was waiting to receive approval for the project — which he received Tuesday night.

City officials are hoping the food truck program will help Dover develop a future comprehensive program which will address the issues of safety, fees, revenue impact, program management and oversight, licensing, site locations and enforcement.

Currently, there is no city code or operational oversight allowing a permanent framework by which food trucks can park on city streets and sell to Dover’s population.

Consequently, food trucks are not permitted to operate on the public right-of-way on a regular basis.

The Pilot Mobile Food Truck Program is slated to begin on Monday, Jan. 15, 2018, and last for 90 days.

Mr. Hudson said he doesn’t have too much concern over the possibility of cold weather during that time period cutting into interest.

“I see it daily,” he said. “I live in Wilmington and the success that program has even going down U.S. 13 and into New Castle, you’ll still see people all the time in the snow, rain, it doesn’t matter — they’re out there.

“It doesn’t matter what the weather is, people still eat.”

Dover’s food truck plan

Dover’s plan is to have 10 food trucks located on Loockerman Street, fronting the Dover Public Library and City Hall area.

The city will allow food trucks to provide temporary Food Truck Service from Monday through Friday, between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The food vendors will provide food service from pre-designated parking spaces only. The city of Dover Police Department will ensure that signs and cones will be installed on a daily basis to inform drivers and the general public of the reserved parking spot locations.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the town of Smyrna passed a new food truck ordinance on Oct. 14, 2016, when Dave Hugg was serving as Smyrna’s town manager. Mr. Hugg is now Dover’s city planner.

The Smyrna ordinance established requirements for mobile food vendors and specified that they must have at least $100,000 worth of general liability insurance, trash receptacles, can have limited dining areas and are not permitted within 50 feet of restaurants.

It also outlined details surrounding the participation of mobile food vendors in public events and specified the licensing procedures. It spelled out restrictions for mobile food vendors located on public and private property and noted penalties for violation of the ordinance between $150 and $500.

It also explained that mobile food vendors who obtain a license as a mobile food vendor are not required to get a business license.

At the time, Mr. Hugg said the impetus behind the ordinance was to pro-actively outline a policy before an urgent need for one arose.

“Food trucks are obviously something of a trend that’s growing rapidly and we’ve not really had a problem,” Mr. Hugg said.

“But we wanted to get ahead of the curve a bit.”

Bringing a community together through food

Now that appears to be happening in the state capital.

While food trucks are nothing new to Dover, an organized effort to promote them is.

Over the past two years, the city has seen the development of food truck services operating out of various locations on U.S. 13 and during special events within the downtown business district.

“Given the large density of employees and citizens visiting City Hall, the Dover Public Library, the Post Office, and the various State Office buildings in the general area of Loockerman Street, these food truck vendors would like to be able to gain access to these potential customers,” Mr. Hudson said.

Mr. Sophrin said food trucks help provide a festival-type atmosphere that brings people together.

“Once people come outside, the food trucks and the smells and the sounds and the music provide us with a low-hanging atmosphere of positivity,” Mr. Sophrin said. “Whether you want to call it ‘placemaking’ or something else, we think it’s been great.”

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