Beginning June 1, 2023, up to eight food carts will now be allowed to operate at various locations throughout Decatur. But this isn’t the first time the city has announced such plans.
The city and the Decatur Downtown Development Authority (DDA) announced plans this week to refresh the mobile food vendor program. Interested businesses must apply for consideration by June 20, carry a current license, and assure carts meet the required dimensions criteria.
In an attempt to create more grab-and-go food options and provide affordable opportunities for small businesses, Decatur is favoring green lighting food carts serving cuisines not currently offered around the city.
Approved carts will operate for a year in four locations on Decatur square, with two additional locations in Harmony Park and one each along East and West Ponce de Leon avenues. After ten months, the city will send reapplication notices to cart vendors for the coming year.
This isn’t the first time Decatur has dabbled in food cart legislation. In 2019, the city launched a pilot program to allow food carts in Decatur Square and Harmony Park in the Oakhurst neighborhood. But the program didn’t allow vendors like King of Pops to operate in either location, as it was in direct competition with nearby businesses, including Steel City Pops.
An investigation by Decaturish revealed the city took steps to show favoritism toward Steel City Pops, freezing out King of Pops, a longtime Decatur square food vendor. The three-part investigative report included the review of more than 400 public records, highlighting how the city seemed to promote Steel City over local favorite King of Pops. Records on the matter from the city date back to 2017, the year Steel City arrived in Decatur. Steel City Pops closed just months before the start of the pandemic.
“This initiative was initially detailed in the City’s 2010 strategic plan and approved through an ordinance in 2017,” DDA chair Conor McNally says in a press release. “COVID caused the food cart program to be postponed, so finally bringing it to fruition is another sign our vibrant downtown has returned.”
The latest revamp of the mobile food cart program appears to be a course correction for Decatur to be more inclusive and provide a clearer avenue for accountability.
How food trucks and mobile food businesses like King of Pops are permitted and where they can operate has been an ongoing issue in Georgia and Atlanta for years. Navigating the quagmire of state, county, and city laws and the tricky process to register and permit mobile kitchens and pass health inspections in the past often proved prohibitive for food truck operators. Then there was the question of where food trucks and carts were allowed to operate within city and county limits.
In 2021, Atlanta expanded designated locations in which food trucks could operate to more commercial districts around the city. Previously, food trucks in Atlanta were only allowed to vend in metered parking spaces on public property in downtown Atlanta and were forced to obtain special permits to specifically sell food in city parks or show proof the business was hired by a private company or individual. The legislation expanded the boundaries to new locations with existing on-street parking spaces in other commercial districts in the city.
A year later, Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 1443 into law, permitting mobile food businesses and food trucks with active permits to operate in multiple Georgia counties under a single permit.
As of January 1, 2023, food truck operators only need to permit within the county the business is currently registered in, with other jurisdictions verifying a food truck’s paperwork and permits through the Georgia Department of Health. Counties and cities may still conduct separate health inspections.
Despite updates to the laws and loosening of restrictions, Georgia and Atlanta still remain less hospitable for food trucks and carts to do business than in other states and cities across the country.