A committee of the Urban County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend a pilot program to allow food trucks in limited downtown areas until the end of the year.
That was good news to Andrew Suthers.
Suthers is one of the owners of Gastro Gnomes, a food truck that opened Monday night. The purchase and outfitting of the truck cost more than $100,000. Permits and fees cost more than $1,000, he said.
"I will definitely take advantage of the program," Suthers said after Tuesday's 9-0 vote.
The full council has to vote on the extension. That is expected to happen in coming weeks.
After several months of debate, the Urban County Council in June approved a six-month pilot program allowing food trucks in six downtown zones. At the time, the council agreed to review the program at the end of the six-month trial period. The council voted in December to extend the program until March, allowing it to review the program in February and see whether there were any complaints.
Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, who had pushed for the pilot program, said there have been no complaints or citations since the program started in June. Only four vendors participated in the program. But the number of food trucks operating in Lexington has increased dramatically during the past 18 months because they know Lexington has public spaces for food trucks, Akers said. She said that the program not only offers Lexington residents more diverse food options, it's an important economic development tool.
"It provides people the opportunity to start their own business — (people) that don't have the means to open a brick-and-mortar business," Akers said. "There are food truck operators that have grown from one employee to 11. There are food truck operators who have also grown to open brick-and-mortar businesses."
Food truck operators said two key factors limited participation in the pilot program: time limits for parking in downtown areas during lunch and the timing of the pilot program.
Lexington Parking Authority, which controls the city's parking, allowed the trucks to park at metered spots for only two hours from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. That was not enough time for a lunch set-up and tear-down for most food trucks, operators said. Food trucks are allowed to operate for unlimited time at metered spaces in the six downtown areas at night.
Also, by the time the program was approved in June, many food trucks were booked for the summer.
Sean Tibbetts, president of the Bluegrass Food Truck Association, said he expects more food trucks to participate in the program if the council gives final approval, likely sometime in early March. Tibbetts, owner of Cluckin' Burgers, said the group decided to work within the constraints of the two-hour time limit at lunch rather than ask for it to be changed.
"We'll try to figure out the two-hour limitations," Tibbetts said. "When they implemented it in the middle of the season last year, there just wasn't time for many people to participate."
Bradford BBQ participated in the pilot program last year and plans to do so again in the summer.
Mathew Bradford of Bradford BBQ said he started as a catering company and then turned it into a food truck business in 2010.
The food truck business helped him open his restaurant in Eastland Shopping Center in 2013. "We wouldn't be where we are today if we hadn't started with the food truck," Bradford said.