City to reexamine food truck permit policy

A local restaurant owner is questioning the city’s decision to allow an out-of-state, corporate restaurant chain to operate a mobile food truck in downtown Seymour.

Lori Keithley, who owns and operates Brewskie’s Downtown, says by letting Chick-fil-A set up a food truck on certain days, the city is taking away customers and revenue from locally-owned brick and mortar restaurants.

“The days they were in town, we did have a considerable loss, and they had a line all day,” she said. “I spoke with a lot of the food businesses downtown and their concern is the same.”

The Chick-fil-A truck is based out of Louisville, Kentucky, and went through the city’s required process, including an inspection from the county health department, back in September to receive a food truck license from the Seymour Board of Public Works and Safety. That permit is good for one year.

They are scheduled to be in the Walnut Street Parking Lot on Dec. 2, 16 and 30.

Keithley said she doesn’t have a problem with locally-owned food trucks such as Nacho Momma’s Burritos, Jalapeno Grill and Junkyard BBQ, because the owners live here and have a relationship with the people of Seymour.

Mayor Matt Nicholson said the ordinance regulating food trucks in the city was created in 2017 and does not stipulate trucks have to be locally owned or operated.

Council has the authority to explore amending the ordinance to make such restrictions, Nicholson said, but he didn’t know the legalities of taking such action.

Councilman Chad Hubbard, who is chairman of the retail development committee, suggested the issue be studied further.

He said whatever the council decides would have to apply to all food trucks, not just Chick-fil-A.

Keithley said it wouldn’t bother her so much if the Chick-fil-A truck had remained set up in the Tractor Supply parking lot which is along East Tipton Street and closer to Interstate 65 where other fast food chains are located. Instead, the truck has been setting up in the Walnut Street parking lot and in Crossroads Community Park.

She asked if it was profitable for the city to bring in such food trucks.

“I really don’t think Chick-fil-A is going to buy a building downtown and move in,” she said during a recent mostly virtual city council meeting. “So is it that beneficial, what they are paying to set up, to lose some downtown businesses? Because we can’t compete with Chick-fil-A.”

By setting up a food truck, Keithley said Chick-fil-A doesn’t have to invest in downtown or worry about parking or social distancing.

“There’s just a lot of different things that gives them an advantage over the local businesses,” she said.

Councilman Bret Cunningham, who sits on the retail development committee, said the trucks are not a money maker for the city, but do increase food options for the public especially during a pandemic when restaurants are not serving at full capacity.

Mobile food truck permits in Seymour cost $150.

“I understand your concern and I’m a strong supporter of the brick and mortar businesses in our community, but I don’t know how we can really fix this issue when the permit has already been issued,” he said. “I think it’s tough to say we can have them in certain parts of town, but not in others.”

Keithley said she isn’t against the city having options for eating out but doesn’t think food trucks are good for the downtown.

“What is the point of having them in downtown Seymour when we have restaurants here that are trying to grow and strive to make downtown better?” she asked.

Councilman Drew Storey said he was encouraged by the efforts of local businesses downtown. He thanked Keithley and other downtown businesses owners for their investment and for offering a great product and place for families and friends to gather.

“I’m very thankful for that, I promise,” he said. “I’m really excited to know that there is some passion around keeping the outsiders out of the downtown.”

He said he was open to examining whether council has the ability to exclude food trucks and itinerant merchants from the downtown other than for special approved events.

“Perhaps that would strengthen our brick and mortar investors in our downtown and really kind of protect that integrity and nostalgia of the downtown,” he said.