Selectmen: Food Truck Can Operate Downtown

By: Tim Wood

The Mom and Pops food truck. TIM WOOD PHOTO

Limited Dates Allowed During Mondays On Main Events

CHATHAM – One of the criticisms organizers of last summer's inaugural Mondays on Main heard was there weren't enough food choices available during the event. This year they proposed adding a local food truck to the weekly music festival, but didn't anticipate opposition from downtown restaurant owners.

At Monday's board of selectmen's meeting, a number of restaurateurs said it was unfair to allow the food truck downtown during the eight Mondays that bands will be playing along Main Street.

“I find it very unfair to think that a mobile unit or outside business will be allowed to come downtown on a premium night to capitalize on the profits, while we're there year round, even on the slow days,” said Rebecca Segura, owner of Chatham Cookware Café.

Although food trucks have been allowed downtown for special events, including First Night and Oktoberfest, the town lacks specific regulations governing where and when they can operate, said Selectmen Chair Shareen Davis. While agreeing to work toward developing regulations, board members endorsed a limited trial period this summer during four of the Mondays on Main nights.

The board put off a vote until next week, however, to provide time for the Chatham Merchants Association, the sponsor of Mondays on Main, to develop more specific detail about where the food truck will operate and what traffic control measures will be put in place, and to get feedback on the issue from town departments.

Mondays on Main began last summer as a way to draw people to downtown on what organizers said was the slowest night of the week. It proved successful, said merchants member and Mondays on Main committee head Jenn Allard, but along with the feedback about the lack of food choices, merchants were told that there weren't enough bands to cover Main Street from the rotary to 400 Main. Instead of four to six bands per night, this year there will be seven to eight bands, she told selectmen, and the event will run for nine weeks, every Monday from July 1 to Aug. 26 from 6 to 9 p.m. Each night will have a theme, beginning with “Celebrate the Fourth of July” the opening week.

Selectmen had no problem issuing 63 individual entertainment permits for the summer but balked at allowing a food truck all nine evenings. Allard said the merchants reached out to Mom and Pops Burgers of West Chatham, a member of the merchants association which recently started a food truck operation, and met with the Kyra Travis, the restaurant's general manager who is also in charge of the food truck.

“The merchants don't want to take business away from anyone, downtown or otherwise,” Allard said. Originally, the truck was to be located at the Cape Cod Five parking lot so that it would not be directly adjacent to any restaurants, but the bank withdrew its permission. Roundabout Gas at the rotary and Eldredge and Lumpkin at 697 Main St. both agreed to host the food truck.

David Oppenheim, who owns the Wayside Inn as well as the building in which Chatham Cookware Café is located, said he was unaware of the food truck plan until last Friday. He questioned whether the merchants’ board of directors or chamber of commerce officials had voted on or discussed the idea. Merchants President Susan Dimm said the plan had been discussed for the last six months and was supported by the board.

Previous food truck operations downtown have been during one-day events in the off season and didn't affect other restaurants, but having a truck on Main Street during the height of the summer season will have a direct impact, Oppenheim said. Downtown restaurant owners pay high rents and only have a short season to make money. He questioned Allard's assertion that there were few food choices during last year's Mondays on Main; there are 19 restaurants between Crowell Road and 351 Main St., he said.

“I don't think there's any shortage of food availability,” he said.

The town has a zoning bylaw relegating permanent food truck operations to the industrial zone, Oppenheim added, and allowing a food truck downtown could run afoul of other regulatory agencies, such as the historic business district commission. He questioned the process and said the issue needs more discussion.

“It changes the whole downtown Chatham,” he said.

If one food truck is allowed downtown, what's to stop others, asked Segura. “This is a can of worms that we really do not want to open,” she said.

Mom and Pops owner Tom Deegan said the business was approached by the merchants and saw participating in Mondays on Main as a way to contribute to the community.

“This is not a position we want to be in,” he said of the situation. “It's tough enough operating here for us to be at each other over these issues.” Most merchants events are held downtown, he added, and businesses there benefit more than those outside of downtown.

Don St. Pierre urged officials to support Mom and Pops, noting that the owners are a young couple with a child, “the type of people we're trying to encourage to stay here.” It's not likely the food truck will take away business from other downtown restaurants. “It's a different food than some of the restaurants are serving downtown,” he said.

Unmentioned was the fact that a hot dog cart operated at last year's Mondays on Main, run by Larry's PX, a West Chatham business. Davis said the town received a number of emails in support of the Mom and Pops food truck, including one from The Chatham Squire.

“There seems to be enough business to go around,” said Selectman Cory Metters, who owns a downtown shop. While he understands the concerns about restaurant owners who pay rent on brick and mortar facilities, “maybe this is an opportunity to have a pilot program” by allowing the food truck on a limited basis.

“I think we can learn something” by doing that, added Selectman Jeffrey Dykens.

Davis agreed, noting that other summer-only food operations downtown, such as the Methodist Church's lobster roll suppers, are accepted “because it's community.” She sees the food truck as similar.

“This is a spirit of enhancing the community, giving variety to what we see as downtown,” she said.

Board members agreed to allow the food truck to operate during four of the Mondays on Main nights—July 8, 22 and Aug. 5 and 19—but before voting asked the merchants association to determine exactly where it will be located and submit plans for monitoring and traffic control. Selectmen also asked Town Manager Jill Goldsmith to solicit feedback on the plan from department heads. A vote on the plan is expected next Tuesday.