Miami Code Enforcers Keep Food Trucks Truckin'
There's a reason why food truck operators update their Twitter feeds more often than Justin Bieber. The mobile food providers constantly have to find new places to post up. And they are using social networking to keep their customers updated on their whereabouts. The grounds for their nomadic tendencies: city code enforcement.
According to the code, vending trucks can stop only by the curb or off the roadway to sell to occupants of nearby properties and quickly move on.
Which brings us to Raymond Delgado, who began operating a food truck named Grill Master Café three months ago. He serves fast food such as steak sandwiches, wraps, and arepas. But four weeks ago, Delgado was forced to move his mobile café out of David Kennedy Park in Coconut Grove.
Delgado says Eddy Montes and Lazaro Orta of the Miami Code Enforcement Office approached him and threatened that if he didn't leave the park, he would be arrested and fined $500 and that his truck would be towed.
Their reasoning: "You can't be stopped somewhere and selling," Delgado says. The truck owner says code enforcers have also kicked him out of private parking lots throughout the city where the tenants have allowed him to park. He was given the same explanation.
"No vendor vending from a motor vehicle shall: Stop, stand, or park his motor vehicle upon any street or permit it to remain there except on the roadway at the curb for the purpose of vending therefrom or in instances where there is no curb, off the roadway. In either instance, sales shall be to occupants of abutting property only," states the "Prohibited Conduct" section of the city code.
Delgado left the park that day, while another food vendor, AC's Icee's, stayed. For the past 30 years, the frozen lemonade truck has operated out of a parking spot designated for its own use.
After learning this, the disgruntled food truck owner says he went to the code enforcement office to question why AC's was given its own space. He says service center representative Evelyn Alfonso told him the vendor was "politically connected."
Code enforcement officials say politics has nothing to do with it.
"The trucks are not permitted to remain in one spot, but inspectors are not going out specifically to look for this; they go mostly on complaints received," director of code enforcement Sergio Guadix wrote in an email to Short Order.
So what makes AC's special? Apparently, it's less due to political connections and more to the fact the icee provider set up camp long before the slew of food-truck bandwagoners hit the streets.
"That truck has been permitted to be there for a long time with permission from the City of Miami Parks Department, I believe including commission approval," Guadix wrote.
Allan Cohen, "AC," scoffed at hearing himself being described as "politically connected." He says he received a contract with the city in 1978 to be the exclusive vendor for the Kennedy Park lot. "Nothing political about me -- just work hard and do things right," Cohen says.
Delgado, who is licensed by the state as a mobile food dispensing vehicle, says a license tailored to food trucks does not yet exist as it does in other cities.
The 43-year-old Miami native has recently joined forces with other allegedly harassed food trucks -- Latin Burger and Taco, Yellow Submarine, and Diamond Café -- to push for the code enforcement commissioner to create a "mobile food dispensing license" for Miami and other South Florida cities.
But for now, besides the grandfathered-in AC's, local food trucks will have to, well, keep truckin'. "There is a vendor license they can acquire, but this is only to sell from a motor vehicle, and they cannot remain standing any place longer than it takes to conduct a sale," Guadix writes.
Follow Grill Master Café on Twitter to see where he is today.
-- Danielle Alvarez and Steven Lechter
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.