Consuelo Rivera’s food truck, Taqueria del Sabor, is the stuff of dreams.
“It was always my dream to have something like this, something different,” Rivera said. “The kitchen is my passion.”
The white trailer that sets up in the private lot adjacent to the Sherwin Williams paint store on Bluffton Road serves up a variety of made-fresh-daily foods like gorditas, tacos Dorados, quesadillas and tortas.
It is the only food truck operating six days a week in Bluffton.
But it does not fall under the purview of a newly amended town ordinance regulating the hours and locations of mobile vending businesses.
Taqueria del Sabor is located in what is colloquially called a “donut hole.” The location is within Bluffton’s geographic town limits but falls under Beaufort County’s jurisdiction for ordinances and law enforcement.
With the passage of Bluffton’s Ordinance No. 2017-01 on Feb. 14, mobile vendors are now allowed to serve customers in addition to working festivals, but it also bars them from operating in the historic district of Old Town or near the town’s central business area.
The ordinance, which is an amendment to the Code of Ordinances that deals with business regulations, includes a number of restrictions that limit opportunities.
For some, like “It’s Only Fair,” a food truck out of Beaufort that offers state-fair type treats, it’s not enough at the moment to apply for a permit.
“The areas that are prohibited really restricts where we can go, and we really need to be near high foot-traffic locations,” said co-owner Amber Bryson. “We had permission from the owner of the Nickel Pumpers on May River Road to park on their property, but the town said we couldn’t.”
The ordinance requires a $400 provisional privilege fee and a long list of forms to be submitted with an application. For operators of ice cream trucks, there are additional requirements for background checks and other child safety-related conditions.
Only eight mobile vending applications have been requested from the town, according to spokesperson Debbie Szpanka, and none have been submitted for approval.
For some, the ordinance comes too late. Mike Harmon of Shrimp Loco said he and his wife Jane sold their truck about a year ago.
“For one thing, the truck was a 24-footer, and that was basically three location fees,” Harmon said. “And the regulation changes were too late. We tried to make a go of it but we couldn’t. We’re looking for a smaller truck now but haven’t gotten there yet.”
Ryan and Leah McCarthy, owners of Downtown Deli and Downtown Catering Company, have a food truck that they use at festivals and for private catering.
“The reason why we don’t use it as a food truck, as it is known to be used, is we don’t feel as though the area is quite used to that, and it wouldn’t make enough to support staffing on the side of the road,” said Leah.
McCarthy said the locations deemed appropriate for food trucks aren’t central to where the people are, and it is unlikely someone is going to get in their car and drive to a food truck when they can park where there are several brick-and-mortar businesses from which to choose.
Still, the ordinance changes are a step toward opening the town up for “meals on wheels,” a concept that is as old as the Wild West in this country.
“It’s great that they’re making strides. I’ve never been one to not support the food trucks even though I have a brick-and-mortar,” McCarthy said. “I was never worried about a truck pulling up in front of my restaurant. In the big cities, you just don’t see that. I still feel as though there is a long way to go. We’re not metropolitan enough to support the trucks.”
For Lori Holland, owner of both Lowcountry Lobster and The Lowcountry Kitchen – a local enterprise with a community kitchen space – the ordinance changes are great.
“It’s awesome, and I know it’s great for a lot of the other food truck owners in the area,” Holland said. She and her partner Kent Merriman limit their mobile lobster business to part-time participation during festivals, but they think the opportunities for others have put Bluffton on the food truck map.
“It’s nice to have our voices be heard,” Holland said, “and it’s nice to be like the rest of the country where it has been successful in other areas.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.