Chatham Invites Food Trucks To Town

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Business , Tourism , Economic development

The Mom and Pop’s food truck at Mondays on Main in 2019. A food truck will be present for each of the Monday night music events this summer, and the select board last week approved regulations allowing food trucks downtown and at other locations. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — After lengthy study, the select board adopted regulations last week allowing mobile food vendors to operate in certain locations around town, including parts of downtown. Out of deference to concerned neighbors, one location – the former Eldredge Garage property – was removed from the list of potential food truck sites.

The select board had previously favored allowing mobile food vendors at six locations around town, but town staff recommended removing the Eldredge Garage site because of concerns about the uneven road surface there. But the select board said they wanted to offer the opportunity for food trucks at the location to help draw foot traffic to the east end of Main Street, so they asked staff to revisit that recommendation.

Town Licensing Agent Shanna Nealy said she and other staffers went to the town-owned site to give it another look, and took note of the proximity of homes “on three sides of the lot, with one commercial inn on the other side.” Nealy told the select board that several neighbors had written in opposition to the plan, and “at this point staff is just not recommending that it’s an appropriate place for mobile food vending.”

Select board members accepted that advice, though some sounded a bit reluctant.

“We talk about vibrancy and opportunity, and we do have to consider balance, but I’m increasingly finding it difficult. Neighbors are having conflicts with people being able to operate businesses around town, and I think we need to be sensitive to that,” board member Shareen Davis said. Davis and colleague Dean Nicastro served on a subcommittee charting the future use of the Eldredge Garage parcel, which currently hosts a privately operated valet parking service.

There are a number of businesses in the area of that property, both presently and historically, and the garage itself was once a business, Nicastro noted. But he acknowledged that it’s “sort of a transitional part of Main Street” where it becomes more residential, and more homes have been built there in recent years.

“So it’s changed, it probably will continue to change, and we need to be respectful of the concerns – the legitimate concerns – of neighbors going forward, but we also want to be respectful of the business needs of the community,” he said.

Board Chair Jeffrey Dykens said it’s important to hear the concerns of neighbors as the town maps out the future use of the Eldredge Garage parcel.

“Mobile food vending was not part of the original plan,” he noted.

“This is an experimental program and I hope that we can really take a look at this again,” board member Michael Schell said.

With that change, the regulations now allow food trucks at five locations, each with their own date and time restrictions. Vendors will be encouraged to apply for permits to operate at the Old Colony Rail Trail parking lot on Route 137, year-round from 11 a.m. to sunset; at the first parking lot at Harding’s Beach and Oyster Pond Beach from 5 p.m. to sunset between June 1 and Sept. 30; at the town offices parking lot downtown year-round from 11 a.m. to sunset; and at the community center parking lot year-round from 11 a.m. to sunset, with the exception of days that the Chatham Anglers play at Veterans Field. To prevent conflicts with the Anglers’ concession stand on those days, food trucks will be required to close up shop at 5 p.m., two hours before the first pitch.

In adopting the rules, the select board is allowing private vendors to seek permission to set up shop, not guaranteeing that food trucks will actually be present. Nealy said the town has so far had two inquiries from interested vendors.

“One is considering a small coffee cart kind of arrangement, and the other is from a local business that does not currently have a food truck,” she said. Previously, the board heard from a food truck owner that high-quality operations are in high demand, and will likely only seek out opportunities where they can be consistently profitable.

There will be at least one food truck downtown once a week this summer, however. The Chatham Chamber of Commerce and Merchants’ Association plans to have a food truck present during each of the Mondays on Main events this summer, which happen Mondays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in July and August.

While the board contemplated permitting day-long food truck service at Harding’s Beach and Oyster Pond Beach, they opted to limit service this summer to after 5 p.m., in part because the roaming ice cream truck vendor that services the town’s beaches has the exclusive right to serve food at the beaches during the daytime. That vendor’s contract is in its final year, so board members say the food truck hours at the beaches could be adjusted to include lunch and dinner starting in 2023.