GET IN LINE Waiting for food truck delights at Fort Williams last summer.
It's nearly summer, and eating outdoors is one of the prime luxuries Maine can offer its residents and visitors. Portland's considering making that easier, with its Food Truck Task Force determining how to organize the debut of the latest nationwide foodie-fad.
With members from the Portland Downtown District, Creative Portland Corporation, the Maine Restaurant Association, the Portland Regional Chamber, city attorney Gary Wood, and representatives from the city's planning, parking, public health, and food inspection departments, the group has met twice, most recently last Friday. (The next meeting has not yet been scheduled, but will likely be in early April.)
That meeting was productive, said Sarah and Karl Sutton, owners of the food cart Bite Into Maine, who were there. The committee and vendors in attendance discussed potential truck locations and parking logistics, as well as proximity to restaurants and other food vendors.
"The good news is that no one was against having food trucks at all," Sarah says. "It's pretty much how to implement it."
Michael McAllister also attended Friday's meeting. He and his business partner Juliet Totten run Cabin Cove Oysters in South Bristol and would like to serve oysters from their Airstream food truck (the Shuck Truck). McAllister says he understands problems might arise if a pizza food truck pulled up in front of an established pizza business in town, but he is more interested in appearing at private functions than on the streets.
The city presently allows food sales from an unlimited number of ice-cream trucks, push carts, and mobile carts. Push cart operators pay a $35 application fee, $295 for the license, and $110 for an inspection fee, plus a $60 surcharge if they want to sell between 10 pm and midnight. (Regular hours are 6 am to 10 pm.) They also must move the cart at least every 12 hours and can't sell within 65 feet of any restaurant or other food vendors.
In two nearby communities, mobile food vendors are already welcome — and having moderate success.
Freeport Town Clerk Beverly Curry says peddlers' licenses have been available for the past 14 years. The permits are good for one calendar year. Applicants must acquire state permits, town food licenses, and Town Council approval before operating a cart. Vendors also participate in a lottery to secure a location each year. Residents pay a $55 application fee and $500 more for the public licenses. (Nonresidents pay $100 and $750.)
Though there are four public licenses available, only two people applied this year: Li Jin sells her cuisine on the corner of Bow and Middle streets and Therese Drapeau sells burritos behind Starbucks on Main Street.
There are also two locations reserved for nonprofit organizations in Freeport. The Fire and Rescue Department has access to one, and the other is shared between the Freeport Sports Boosters and the Port Teen Center. Neither are used very frequently, Curry says.
In Cape Elizabeth, the food vendor program is entering its second summer. Last year the town provided three areas within Fort Williams Park for food vendors to operate between May 1 and October 31. They received 13 responses and awarded permits to five vendors. Each vendor paid about $2000 for a spot. One vendor received a permit to sell in one location for the entire season, and the other four shared two locations. They received seasonal permits divided into summer (May through August) and fall (September through October).