Restaurant owners: Food trucks do not belong downtown

Downtown restaurant owners are fighting against food trucks near their establishments.

The Downtown Knoxville Restaurant Owners group formed after the city announced they were working on a pilot program for food trucks. Twenty-one restaurants from Gay Street, the Old City, and Market Square hired lawyer, Keith Stewart, to represent them.

He sent a letter to the city Friday outlining their concerns. The letter states, "Downtown restaurant owners believe food trucks have a place in our city, but not in our downtown."

They argue food trucks get the advantage of a prime location without the permanent overhead costs.

"Frankly there are a lot of days where there are more restaurant seats than there are customers. And we just think it's unfair for them to come in during peak times and take away the clientele and customers we've established over the years," said Bistro at the Bijou owner, Martha Boggs.

The group requests that all food trucks be confined to the World's Fair Park area. They also list other concerns such as lack of restroom facilities in food trucks and "tacky, obnoxious" signage. They allege food trucks do not provide a stable tax base or have the same rules and regulations as restaurants.

Meanwhile several food trucks have also formed a group called the Knoxville Mobile Restaurants Association to help further their interests. Organizer Johnathan Borsodi said food trucks operate the same way as brick and mortar restaurants.

"We are actually mobile restaurants. We have the exact same establishment permit that every other restaurants have. In fact we actually have more requirements," Borsodi said.

He said they also are required to meet the same health codes and provide sales tax revenue to the city and county.

"Savory and Sweet" food truck's owner, Byron Sambat, said they are not targeting the same customers as downtown restaurants.

"We want to fill a niche in the downtown restaurant scene which is to get a really well made, local, quick lunch at a good price," Sambat said. He argues there are few options to get a fast lunch.

Borsodi agrees, "Especially when you look at the experience of other cities. When you look at Austin, they have a very vibrant food truck scene and restaurant scene as well. They build off each other and force each other to become better.

The Knoxville Mobile Restaurants Association said they hope to work with, not against, the downtown restaurants.

"I'm confident we can," said Borsodi.

The City of Knoxville's downtown coordinator, Rick Emmett, said they are currently conducting research to draft an ordinance that would allow food trucks on city streets. They hope to have one written by October. He said they are closely looking at Nashville's pilot program and are waiting to see their results.


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