01 Jun Letter to the Aiken Planning Commission about Food Trucks
Yesterday, I sent in this letter and summary of research to the City of Aiken Planning Commission to be included in their agenda when they re-discuss updating the city’s legislation of food trucks. Keep checking on our page and website to learn more about their public hearings and legislation drafts!
Dear Madam Chairperson,
In view of the last Planning Commission meeting and your request to send further information to the board in order help make a more educated decision on the ordinance, I am writing this report so as to offer my input and fruits of my research on the issue. I am an Aiken native and currently attend the University of South Carolina-Aiken and am the Opinions Editor for the University newspaper, the Pacer Times.
The food truck industry is one of the fastest growing modes of entrepreneurial opportunity and retail business in the US today. In 2014, a study done by IBISWorld reported that they had generated $800 million in national revenue, with Intuit doing a parallel study in 2012 that its estimated growth into a $2.7 billion industry in 2017. The 2016 IBISWorld study found the industry and market value to be $870,000,000, with a 7.9% annual growth. However, there is a very real possibility that “the Industry revenue growth will slow amid regulatory hurdles and increased saturation… [already, d]espite strong performance, some operators have been held back by regulations, increased competition, and low-profit margins.”
The food truck industry has rapidly spread to the largest cities in the nation, with the private sector being heavily influenced by the sudden boom. Food trucks are currently one of the trendiest new attractions for millennials and workers alike. Workers love the ability to be able to procure quick, cheap, convenient, and healthier food from small local businesses, while millennials are drawn to the variety and experience the trucks provide. As food trucks often have a smaller daily clientele than the average restaurant, they are often able to utilize sources for locally-produced food that would not have been able to supply a full-fledged brick-and-mortar site.
The implementation of food trucks offers a solution to the modern phenomena of the new class of “privileged poor.” In the wake of the Great Recession and the constantly changing and unstable market, one in five millennials currently lives below the poverty line, and nearly one-half are unemployed. The possibility of cheap and nutritious meals is especially important to the increasingly cash-strapped middle class to be able to feed themselves and their children on something other than a steady diet off the McDonald’s menu. True, not all food trucks are the epitome of health food, however, at the very least it can be stated that they are providing a way to support local businesses and to provide something that is at least nominally better than the average fast-food meal.
Food trucks are part of the solution to Aiken’s continuing economic problems. Statistically speaking, nation-wide, over 97% of food trucks are self-owned small businesses and over 37% hire additional workers for either full-time or part-time jobs. Food trucks are also a good way for young entrepreneurs to jump into the business while putting up a comparatively smaller capital than would be necessary to start a brick-and-mortar facility. “In New York alone, nearly a quarter of all food trucks upgrade to a restaurant.” One famous example of a mobile food enterprise-turned-restaurant is the popular fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. Chefs and owners of mobile food venues are able to finesse their culinary and business skills, while simultaneously earning the money necessary to make the leap into brick-and-mortar venues. Food trucks also pay property taxes on their vehicle, equipment, and fixtures. They pay rent to their commissary, who then use the money to pay the property taxes. They pay sales, taxes hospitality taxes, etc. All of this money helps to forestall any perceived unfair advantage against brick-and-mortar owners, and helps to enrich city coffers through their taxes and licensing fees.
Additionally, food trucks create more jobs than just selling the food on site. Gourmet food trucks tend to want to utilized local sources for produce, eggs, and supplies, creating more profit for local farmers and thereby helping customers to eat locally. Food trucks are also required by DHEC in the state of South Carolina to “return to a permanent base of operations daily for cleaning, restocking, and prep work.” This leads to the creation of commissary kitchens with staff, and the need for other workers.
At the end of the last semester, the staff of the Pacer Times (the University of South Carolina-Aiken student newspaper) held up a vote on where to have the end-of-year party. I was appalled that amongst the different restaurants held up for review, only two out of seven were in Aiken- Mellow Mushroom and Tako-Sushi- and neither of these is an exclusively local venue, each being part of their respective chains. The is a great need for more venues that will be attractive to the students and young adult residing in Aiken and/or attending our local high schools and colleges. Although I do not pretend that food trucks would entirely solve the problem, it would be an effectual way to keep consumer dollars in Aiken. I have also performed an extensive independent poll of the USC-A students to ascertain the general feeling toward such an innovation. To a man, each student expressed interest and excitement towards the idea of having the option of food trucks coming to Aiken. Many asked about the possibility of having a center for trucks close to campus and the possibility of even having events that would coincide with the Third Thursday college nights downtown. This would help encourage more students to attend the events, as there are currently very few attractions for students below the legal drinking age or those who not interested in hitting the bars. This is due in part to the late hour the event and the dearth of interesting venues and events for millennials.
In an interview, Aiken native and rising-Senior year Communications Major at USC-A Elizabeth Abshire said, “I want to know if they would put the food trucks closer to campus. A huge majority of the students at USCA don’t have cars or don’t know what’s around Aiken, so why not put the trucks close? They could possibly be in that empty parking lot by Groucho’s Deli or the former Dick Smith Auto Dealership. I believe [that the City of Aiken] needs to realize that there is a college in Aiken and that the students need more to do in town. Additionally, if the trucks are close to the USC-A campus, the workers at the hospital can eat a different variety of food too. Aiken is not a big town, so it is important to think about how to get the most use out of property that is already available. If there are trucks near the campus, then that will be one of the first things that the parents and students who come to orientation will see.
I think Aiken needs food trucks, but not necessarily in the downtown area. Downtown is so small and we all support locally, but to add food trucks down there, that could cause a lot of issues. We have orientations all through the year, so there’s constantly something at the university. The trucks will let [school and City officials] say ‘hey, Aiken isn’t like the other colleges, they have food trucks within walking distance’
Actually, since the university’s birth, the Aiken community has been in support of us and they helped us grow into the college we are today. So why not show those close ties by offering something near the college?” The larger and more prosperous our University becomes, the more income and growth Aiken will experience.
It seems only practical to update our legislation to allow more food trucks into Aiken, for reasons ranging from the economic, to an additional tourist attraction, to allowing free enterprise and adapting to new modes of business. However, the most important factor to consider is the physical wellbeing and quality of life that the residents of our beloved City of Aiken. I firmly believe that updating City Zoning Ordinance 6.2.15 Sec. 36-8 to allow and encourage mobile food units is acting in our current and future best interests.
Opinions Editor of the Pacer Times
 “Food Trucks Market Research Report.” IBISWorld.com. November 2016. https://www.ibisworld.com/industry/food-trucks.html Accessed May 17, 2017.
 Aronowitz, Norma Willis. “Why We Need Food Trucks in a Recession-Era Economy.” Good. March 1, 2012. www.good.is/articles/why-we-need-food-trucks-in-a-recession-era-economy Accessed May 17, 2017.
 Martineau, Chantal. “Started From the Streets Now They Are Here: 5 Food Trucks That Made The Big Time.” FoodRepublic.com. July 14, 2014. www.foodrepublic.com/started-from-the-streets-now-they-here-5-food-trucks-that-made-the-big-time/ Accessed May 17, 2017.
 Permits: Mobile Food Cart/Unit. South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. www.scdhec.gov/FoodSafety/FoodServiceIndustry/Permits/MobileFoodCart/ Accessed May 17, 2017.
 Personal interview with Lizzie Abshire on May 8, 2017