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Food trucks pose new issues for city

Posted 5/02/12 (Wed)

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

With so many new residents and workers living in and around Watford City, area restaurants are jam-packed every night of the week, menu items run out, wait staffs work overtime and hours change when food or staff runs out. However, the overwhelming demand for restaurants is not yet being met by new restaurants, but by vendors in food trucks or trailers.
No longer are these mobile units relegated to fairs and festivals. They have become semi-permanent fixtures among a sea of campers, man camps, businesses and homes. But what does their continued presence mean for Watford City?
There are some who would say they give off an unkempt or messy appearance, and that they neither improve nor provide a meaningful addition to Watford City. Others delight in having quality dining options that are fast and affordable. And if the restaurants cannot keep up with the demand and the price of real estate and construction does not allow many individuals the opportunity to open an actual restaurant, why not work from a food truck?
There are currently about half a dozen temporary dining options around Watford City. Most of the trucks or trailers are self-sufficient like any camper or RV. They serve everything from pizza and pasta to burgers and burritos. Customers can even call or text some of the trucks in advance to pick up their order and go, and for many it is perfect for their harried pace.
Whatever one’s stance on the vendors, there is certainly something to be said for what city ordinances do or do not allow. Currently, any of the vendors must obtain a transient vendor license. That covers the sale of everything from food to clothing to tools. But such a license is not necessarily intended to be used in the more permanent way that has become commonplace.
“These are new circumstances that the city isn’t prepared for,” explains Steve Williams, Watford City building inspector. “We are looking at how to work with what this unique situation has become.”
The vendors have permission from private property owners to run their business and there is no provision in city ordinances to regulate such.
“I don’t know if the state health board comes and checks on them,” says Williams. “The city doesn’t do anything with that.”
So far, the only thing that the city does have control over is their placement in regard to traffic flow. If a truck or trailer is obstructing traffic, Williams ensures they move so as not to inhibit traffic.
The Watford City City Council, however, is working to put some regulations in place to have more control over where or if such vendors are allowed.
“We realized there was a need to get something in place,” explains Williams. “We don’t have everything we need, but we’re working on it. And it’s not just for the city, but for the entrepreneurs as well.”
Whatever the city council decides to put in place in regard to food vendors will be something that Williams must enforce.
“It is my job to help protect the community,” says Williams. “What we really want is to help keep some continuity and stability.”
With Watford City and McKenzie County experiencing such varying tides of people coming and going, food vendors are filling a needed service that otherwise would leave many eating gas station snacks as their entire diet. Food vendors give workers another option when it comes to eating on the run. Hopefully, a solution that meets both the city’s desire to maintain some type of permanency and vendors desire to run a business can be found.