Boothbay Harbor business leaders and owners gathered Aug. 7 for a planning board workshop to make clear their position on allowing mobile food vendors: Don’t.
Chair Tom Churchill said selectmen asked the board to look into it as interest has recently increased after Heidi’s Hot Dog Wagon and Lester Spear’s Kettle Corn sought licenses to operate on the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library lawn during Windjammer Days. After some confusion, they got permission.
Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith clarified that as ordinances stand, food trucks driving into town can do business only on private property and need the same permits as any other restaurant.
Churchill began the workshop with hopes of going over the questionnaire handed out ahead of time. The first question – whether or not food trucks should be regulated – received a “yes” from Pier 1 Pizza owner Korey Lewis: “Make sure there aren't any in town, private or public land.”
“With Windjammer Days when they bring in the trucks – that cut my business down a third,” said Dunton’s Doghouse owner Gary Starankewicz.
“This is a really annoying topic to me,” said Lewis. “I've been in business 19 years in that one spot and you want to bring somebody in who can just do what they want every day during the summer when it's my peak season, his peak season, his, hers?”
Resident and Linekin Home owner Tom Minerich reminded his fellow businesspeople the planning board is not poising to undermine them, it is doing as selectmen said to determine if ordinance work is needed.
Downeast Ice Cream owner Bob Bua said mobile food vending is not needed. A healthy community offers high quality products at competitive prices, and with about 30 food service establishments all competing, there are no further needs to be met, Bua said.
Said Bua, “We food service providers work at razor thin margins … If a food truck selling ice cream were to park anywhere near my shops, I would have to seriously consider closing the shops. Why? Because I have been working under the expectation that competitors with less overhead paying less in public service utilities and hiring fewer workers would not be able to come in and cut the business legs out from under me by offering similar products without my overhead investment.”
The board asked if exceptions should be made for private nonprofits or for special events like Windjammer Days. Most speakers opposed it. They said the community already supports the causes through donations and other fundraising.
Lewis said he was asked to be the food vendor for Windjammer Days at Whale Park about 15 years ago. He offered hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn and pizza slices. It worked for three years; then he was replaced by someone from out of town with a larger menu, he said.
Capers owner Stacy Laird said every Early Bird, the local nonprofit Rebuilding Together sets up outside Caper’s to sell egg sandwiches for breakfast – something Laird’s business is well known for.
“I have gone to Rebuilding Together and have said to them, 'Listen, you're doing egg sandwiches across the street from me. It's what I'm known for. Could you do something different? They looked at me flat out and said, ‘Why don't you do something different?' Early Bird is how I pay my rent in November … Gift wrap – do something that's not food related … It's so hard to make a living in Boothbay Harbor, so hard.”
Asked if Rebuilding Together or any other nonprofit were to ask code enforcement for permission to sell food on private property, Smith said they would not be going to him in the first place. They should go to selectmen for a victualer's license and to the state for licensing, said Smith. Board member Bill Hamblen admitted some of these events attracts this activity year after year and the town has done little to enforce certain rules.
“It happens every year and maybe we need to publicize the existing laws and enforce them more so that people move away from food products because I think the victualer's license is a real issue because there's public safety and a lot with that,” said Hamblen.
Lewis said the presence of the Lot Dogs vendor at Mutt Scrub blew his mind because he always understood that Brud – of Brud's Hot Dogs – was supposed to be the last vendor licensed in Boothbay Harbor. Starankewicz said he applied for that same license after Brud stopped selling hot dogs and was denied because the town decided against vending.
Mung Bean owner Steve Madden asked the board to consider that if voters pass an ordinance allowing some form of mobile food vending, the boards would need to be ready for unforeseen circumstances.
Said Madden, “If an unforeseen problem arises, will you folks and the selectmen have enough strength and backbone to put a stop to it? Or is it just going to be, you put up your hands and say 'Oh?’ I've seen it in the past, unforeseen things come up and the town looks the other way. And it's not fair.”