Birmingham mulls food trucks at workshop
By Kevin Elliott
Taco trucks and other rolling food vendors may one day be dishing it up in Birmingham, as Birmingham City Commissioners and Planning Board members met on Monday, October 11, at a workshop meeting to discuss the operation of food trucks in the city.
Long known for its downtown dining scene, Birmingham dismissed the notion of food trucks operating in the city in 2011. At the time, city commissioners discussed potential locations for trucks or mobile food carts in the city, but received negative feedback from brick and mortar restaurant owners.
The issue returned to the city commission in June of 2021, when commissioners discussed the potential of expanding the city’s ordinances to allow for food trucks.
Birmingham Planning Director Nick Dupuis said a food truck survey was conducted on the city’s Engage Birmingham website, which shows many divergent opinions about allowing food trucks to operate in the city.
More than 550 people participated in the survey, including 387 residents, as well as people who work in Birmingham or own a business in the city. Of those participating, 16 people said food trucks shouldn’t be on public property, while 57 said there should be no change to the current ordinance. Overall, 88.7 percent of participants said they would patronize a food truck, while 8.6 percent (36 individuals) said they don’t like food trucks.
As to where food trucks should be allowed to operate, 291 people said food trucks should operate in public plazas; 289 said in public parking lots; 232 want food trucks at all parks. The most requested type of cuisine for food trucks were Mexican (364); Mediterranean (304); Barbecue (298), with items like elephant ears (72) the least popular.
Respondents had mixed reactions in their comments.
“Birmingham has developed to become an upscale, quiet community,” one responder wrote. “Food trucks do not enhance that image. Food trucks as the city states offers cheap food quick (sic). year round, outside dining need to be offered to all sit down restaurants in town. It’s amazing the outside structures had to be taken down but yet food trucks are being considered.”
Others were more open to the idea.
“Food trucks are a great compliment to the city’s offerings,” one person wrote. “Don’t let over-regulation or restaurants prevent them from being successful.”
Birmingham Planning Board member Stuart Jeffares said one restaurant owner he spoke with was in support of food trucks.
“Rents are up and workers are harder to come by. The number of lighter, cheaper alternatives has dried up,” he said. “There are more people in my office doing Door Dash. Eleven years ago, it was a competition issue. I’m not sure it’s as competitive… (the owner) said he thinks it will bring more people in and be a plus for the city.”
The survey also questioned the degree that current restaurant operators should be involved in the operation of food trucks.
“Please ask every Birmingham restaurant owner about this question,” one person wrote. “They’re already struggling. Let’s not make their hard job even more difficult. What would Birmingham be without fine restaurants. I’d love to enjoy food trucks from the likes of Greek Islands, Elie's and more.”
Overall, 34.5 percent of survey respondents said current brick and mortar restaurants should be offered the opportunity to operate food trucks in the city first, while 52.5 percent said operation should be open to anyone.
Birmingham City Commissioner Clinton Baller suggested bringing in food truck operators to speak with to determine their needs and whether operating in the city would be in their interest. Commissioner Mark Nickita agreed.
“I think food trucks are excellent,” Nickita said. “We need density and events for them. I agree with commissioner Baller. Let’s see if there’s interest from the food truck operators. First thing is to get to the bottom of demand and interest.”
The commission instructed the planning board to take up the issue and investigate food truck operations further.
Dupuis said ordinance amendments would be needed to both the business ordinance and the city’s zoning ordinance to accommodate food trucks.