Ottawa restaurant and bar owners took sharp criticism from the public last week for requesting a food truck ban in a letter to the mayor and commissioners.
The owners, however, clarified the next day, despite what they wrote, they weren’t asking for an all-out ban, just one on food trucks operating in the downtown.
That’s much more reasonable.
Currently, Ottawa has no ordinances restricting food trucks.
That means a food truck vendor selling pizza can pull up in a city-owned parking space in front of one of Ottawa’s downtown pizza establishments and start selling slices. A taco vendor could sell tacos out of a cooler in front of a Mexican restaurant.
This isn’t ideal, especially during the pandemic with restrictions in place for indoor dining.
Keep in mind, Ottawa’s restaurant and bar owners have made the investment to create a downtown attractive to visitors. As it stands now, there’s nothing stopping out-of-town food truck vendors from setting up shop downtown and stealing those customers.
When the city built up its tourism base, the idea was to bring those dollars back into Ottawa.
While food truck vendors also are required to pay sales tax into the state, brick-and-mortar businesses also pay property taxes that go back to the community to pay for schools and city services. These established businesses also invest in the community in other ways, by donating to fundraisers or sponsoring events.
With that said, food trucks can bring character and diversity to a community, and serve as an attraction in their own right. It would be a mistake to do what some other communities have done, and make restrictions so tight, there’s no market for food trucks.
We are encouraged Mayor Dan Aussem has called a workshop meeting 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 15, at City Hall for both restaurant owners and food truck vendors to come together and weigh in on the issue.
This gives us hope Ottawa will not shut the door completely on food truck vendors, including Bertha Food Truck, a local business in its own right operated by Jared Murley and his wife Sadie, who want to share their love for food with the community.
It also sets the stage for restaurant owners to go into more detail about their concerns and the council to find a workable solution for both sides.
Ottawa’s council has a real chance here to provide an example of good local government by looking out for everyone’s best interests.
There needs to be rules for food truck vendors to follow, from safety rules to registering with the city and respecting a brick-and-mortar restaurant's space, but we don't want to see restrictions used in a manner that otherwise bans food trucks by policing them out.