Town planners discuss updates to food truck vendor regulations in Columbia

Customers order from the Hen House Food Truck in Columbia, Tenn., on January 12, 2023.


Establishing a proper regulation for food trucks and on-the-go sales took a step forward this month, updating the city’s existing codes to be agreed upon by government and business owners.

The issue of having a formal city ordinance to regulate these mobile businesses has been a contingency for several years, mostly due to the food truck boom that hit Columbia before any regulations were in the books. In other words, the city was navigating in uncharted territory.

“I’ve seen success and some failures in small towns and big towns,” said Brian Matthews, owner of Jefferson’s restaurant, who has 23 years of experience in the mobile sales business.

“Failures are due to a lack of communication between the people who drive these trucks. But the vast majority of successes come from small business owners being passionate about what they do.”

Earlier this month, the city’s planning commission reviewed the existing ordinance, discussing several proposed updates. Recommended updates to the regulation include convenient working hours, size restrictions on trucks, and what days of the week trucks can operate.

Abe Everett is the founder and owner of Abe's BBQ Smokehouse food truck in Columbia.

Abe Everett is the founder and owner of Abe’s BBQ Smokehouse food truck in Columbia.

“We just want something that is respected and is good for both parties,” Abe Everett, founder of Abe’s BBQ Smokehouse and Mule Town Pizza, said at the meeting. “There are always a few things we can improve on.”

Proposed changes in favor of city staff included:

  • Removing size restrictions for vehicles

  • Eliminate land plan requirements

  • Eliminate operating permit letters unless there is a dispute between seller and owner

  • Let food trucks operate downtown or in public areas with lists to be published every 90 days by the city

  • Accurately describing what a food truck is

Additionally, food truck vendors also made a few suggestions for change. However, municipal staff said they were not on their side. Food truck vendors have previously argued for: removing the four-day work rule, eliminating hard surface requirements, and allowing sales in residential areas.

In particular, Everett said the four-day rule could have a negative impact on certain businesses that operate on the same property, such as the Loosewheels food truck that sells its famous smash burgers next to the Briarworks pipe mill.

He also stressed the importance of being able to operate in residential areas for events such as fundraising that have proven successful in the past.

“We wouldn’t be here as a business today if it weren’t for those who live in this community,” Everett said. “I can definitely say that. The people of Columbia are the reason I’m here.”

The issue has been delayed until the planning committee’s meeting in April, amid a lack of information on the mobile kitchens that city leaders hope to include in the final proposal.

After the final vote is taken, it will be passed to the Columbia City Council, which will make the final decision on any desired amendments to the bylaws.

This article was originally published in The Daily Herald: City seeks updates on food truck vendor regulations