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Food truck community seeks streamlined regulation

By Josh Staloch

GREEN BAY – The mobile eateries of Brown County are gaining in both numbers and popularity.
The ability of food trucks to bring a wide variety of cuisine to different locations makes rolling restaurants like Boss Dogs, Taco Tone’s, Carjacks Paddywagon, Captain Quesadilla and Scrapyard Smoker BBQ an invaluable part of farmers’ markets and other big events around the area.

But as the food truck community grows, so does the need for a uniform set of rules and regulations for them to follow, operators said.

More than two dozen food trucks operate in the Green Bay area, and making sure they’re operating within the letter of the law can be a daunting task.

Some are hoping for clarification.

For a broad look at how fees for the food truck community are structured, consider that every food truck in business in Brown County pays a $330 (or $550, depending on the size of the operation) yearly fee to the county health department.

This fee covers the county’s responsibilities for randomly inspecting trucks and other clerical functions and is largely considered to be just an expected cost of doing business.

Nemard Wilson of Lil’ Jamaica restaurant and food truck. Josh Staloch Photo

But then consider the other fees that have to be paid: to operate a truck in the Village of Allouez will cost an extra $70, while the City of De Pere requires an extra $300 per year.

The Village of Ashwaubenon asks for another $350, down from $500 last year plus another $100 or more each time a truck wants a spot at the popular Ashwaubomay Food Truck Rally.

“As far as licensing goes, it was extremely easy to get a permit for Green Bay,” said Mac Miller, food service manager at the Ashwaubenon Hy-Vee and owner of Speedy Eats Food Trailer. “In Ashwaubenon, it’s a different story. They’re a little more difficult to deal with. For them, it’s $500. So, I never got licensed in Ashwaubenon; I’ve never vended in Ashwaubenon, and that includes Brown County Fairgrounds. It was just not to my advantage to pay $500 for a permit.”

It would appear as if the folks in charge of making the decisions are listening.

In addition to the Village of Ashwaubenon dropping its yearly fee by $150, the City of Green Bay has reduced its yearly fee from $500 in December of 2021 to $50 for 2022 and going forward.

The cost reduction is much appreciated in the food truck community, but many are still wondering why county-wide regulations aren’t in place to consolidate paperwork and make fees more sensible.

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous that we pay to have our permit in the city we work and live in, our licenses are through the county health department and they can come and inspect us anytime they want to, and things aren’t consistent across the board,” said Rachelle O’Donnell-Lance, proprietor of Blue Suede Foods.

“Why is Green Bay $50, Ashwaubenon is $350, Howard-Suamico is nothing, and they’re all in Brown County? It makes no sense for us to have to pay to do business in each individual village.”

Ashwaubenon Village Manager Joel Gregozeski said the village’s recent reduction in the license fee was a move to cut down on redundancy.

“There are a couple of reasons for that,” Gregozeski said of the fee decrease. “Other municipalities have reduced their fees recently and then, in review of our ordinance, the mobile food establishment acts very similarly to a direct sellers permit. We wanted to make it the same. We want to verify through an application that they’re licensed through Brown County Public Health and that they can operate their food truck legally.”

As far as the extra fee to be a vendor at the Ashwaubomay Food Truck Rallies, Gregozeski said it exists primarily because the event provides a guaranteed crowd, and space at the event is officially spoken for.

Leah Weycker, Executive Director of the Military Avenue Business District, said the move made by the city of Green Bay to drastically cut the yearly fee makes a lot of sense.

“It seems to me that there are a few different groups collecting fees from the food trucks, and it’s making it difficult for some of them to do business. If the city’s going to charge another layer of inspection, then I could see having that fee,” Weycker said. “But to charge a fee just to say you can operate in our city, (the food trucks) are already paying a fee to Brown County. We’re in Brown County. It seems redundant to me.”

Though it’s a work in progress, area food truck operators are hopeful that municipal leaders will develop a road map for them to follow that will keep everyone happy and profitable.

“I like the idea of one fee covering everything county-wide,” said Nemard Wilson, who owns Lil’ Jamaica on Broadway and its corresponding food truck. “They need to come up with a game plan for regulating things that makes sense. We don’t want to go to the health department and have them say one thing then go to the city and have them say something different. Then, you’re stuck in the middle arguing. It makes it difficult to get things done.”

Even though there are problems in the food truck community that need solutions, most agree that Green Bay is a good place to be if you’re in the business of offering interesting eats wherever they may be needed.

“I feel like we, the food truck community, and the city, get along fairly well,” O’Donnell-Lance said. “I feel like, for the most part, especially with law enforcement, I think they want to see us succeed.”

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