December 19, 2014

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Oberlin food truck business hits road block

Jeremy Reimnitz, left, and Casey Silverstein, both Oberlin College juniors, stand in front of their food truck, and mobile business, North Coast Toast, on Nov. 9. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

Jeremy Reimnitz, left, and Casey Silverstein, both Oberlin College juniors, stand in front of their food truck, and mobile business, North Coast Toast, on Nov. 9. KRISTIN BAUER/CHRONICLE

OBERLIN — Oberlin College student Casey Silverstein said he never expected the challenges he has faced to get his food truck business, North Coast Toast, up and running.

Silverstein, along with business partners Jeremy Reimnitz and Evan Zierk, envisioned a gourmet grilled-cheese food-truck business during a Creativity and Leadership class at Oberlin College. The entrepreneurship class is designed to get students to “build skills, knowledge and experience they need to launch their ideas,” according to the Oberlin College website.

Silverstein said he received a Creativity and Leadership grant, and the group also took to the fundraising website Kickstarter for donations. With 130 backers, North Coast Toast exceeded its goal and raised $9,759.

“The community should have a late-night food option. … I think we’re providing something that’s extremely cheap. We source all of our food options locally,” he said.

North Coast Toast has been open only a few times — once at a private event, during a TGIF event on campus and during the business’ launch party — Silverstein said. But Silverstein was ordered to cease operations until he received a conditional-use permit from the city to operate on Oberlin College property.

Silverstein, who said he plans to meet with the city’s planning department, said he hopes to begin operations again because students want another food option on campus.

City Director of Planning and Development Gary Boyle said he still is waiting for North Coast Toast to submit a permit application.

The food-truck operation has prompted the city to re-examine its regulations as the popularity of food-truck ventures grows across the state.

Food trucks are embraced in Cleveland, but the city of Akron has banned vendors from selling items out of vehicles on public property.

Akron City Council is re-examining the laws on its books regarding food trucks, but city restaurants are opposed to allowing the food trucks to operate outside of special events, contending that the low-overhead food trucks will take their business and could cost the city jobs and tax income.

Boyle said North Coast Toast could apply for a conditional-use permit to operate on private property, but the city doesn’t have any rules or regulations for food trucks operating on public property. Boyle said that although North Coast Toast had operated solely on private property, city officials are taking a look at their laws.

The city does not allow food trucks on public street rights-of-way, with the exception of special city events.

“The only time we’ve had (food trucks) is part of special events downtown,” he said.

Food trucks were the subject of debate during a Sept. 4 Oberlin Planning Commission meeting after North Coast Toast submitted a preliminary application. During the meeting, various city departments reviewed where food trucks could be located, policies on utility hook-ups, waste disposal and licensing.

Boyle, who brought up complaints from traditional restaurants about food trucks, discussed ways to settle disputes, including a lottery system so that a particular vendor does not always get the most desired locations. He said regulations for food trucks could be accomplished in a similar manner to the development of regulations for sidewalk cafes, which previously were considered by the Planning Commission, City Council and the community.

The Commission directed staff to continue researching regulations regarding food-vendor trucks and to submit a report and draft guidelines for consideration at an upcoming meeting. That report was outlined by Boyle on Oct. 18 and suggested limiting hours of operation, requiring the business to supply trash receptacles and limiting excessive lighting and noise, as well as requiring the business to have liability insurance.

Silverstein said he also has submitted a report by the Institute for Justice on food-truck regulations to the city for review.

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com. Follow her on Twitter @ChelseaMillerCT.