Food Truck Parks Face Obstacles in Bringing Booze to the Masses

You know what would go perfect with that Shorty Mac from H-Town StrEATS? Or with that Kimchi Koagie from Koagie Hots or something spicy and Cajun from St. John's Fire?

Beer. Beer would go great with food truck fare. I imagine cocktails probably would, too. And I know I want wine with my cupcakes and cookies from our sweet trucks in town.

Of course the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission prohibits roving food trucks to sell any sort of alcohol, because they don't meet the requirements to do so.

According to TABC permitting laws, in order to sell any sort of alcohol -- beer, wine or liquor -- a business must have a Retail Dealer's License. This license authorizes businesses "to sell beer for consumption on or off premises in a lawful container to the ultimate consumer but not for resale. Requires adequate seating area for customers."

So individual food trucks, being mobile and whatnot, can't provide seating for clients, and therefore can't sell booze. But what about food truck parks, which don't go anywhere and generally have ample seating and parking?

That gets a little more tricky. Just ask Liz Hale of My Food Park HTX.

The food park, which opened in early November, has been promising to have an on-site bar since Hale and her husband, Jerry, first came up with the idea to open a park in a three-acre piece of land out on Highway 6 near I-10. There are a few things standing in the way of that goal, though.

"Six thousand dollars," Hale exclaimed, clearly eager to talk about the lack of alcohol at her park thus far. "You have to pay TABC $6,000 for the first year in order to get a license, and then it's around $2,000 every year after that."

You also have to have two working restrooms, it turns out -- one for men and one for women. These restrooms must be hooked up to actual, functioning plumbing. No porta-potties allowed.

"We have a few port-a-potties that we keep very clean," Hale says, "and we have one real toilet, but it's hooked up to a well in the back, and we don't want it running all the time."

The expense of putting in another toilet and hooking it up to the city's water supply coupled with the fees associated with permitting is prohibitive for a small food truck park like My Food Park HTX. Of course, the profits from selling alcohol on-site could easily raise enough money, but that's a bit of a catch-22.

"When I first called TABC to ask about a permit for the park, the people had no idea what a food truck park was," Hale explains.

Indeed, if you search for food trucks or food truck parks on the TABC website, there are no results. Elsewhere in the country, trucks have been serving alcohol for years, and they're not even required to be stopped at a commissary or park. In New York, the first booze-slinging trucks hit the road in 2011, but the permits do require that customers stay in one place if they order an alcoholic beverage. Wandering off with an open beer in hand is not allowed.

Somehow, in Houston, a mobile unit called the Pedal Party was granted an alcohol license. Perhaps it's because the Pedal Party doesn't sell alcohol -- you bring your own, and then drink it while pedaling what's essentially a giant bar up and down Washington Avenue (perhaps you've seen it?). Also, there's a designated driver who works for Pedal Party and doesn't partake during the outing. That's as close as Houston has come to a mobile alcohol vendor.

But back to the park. Many understand the reasoning behind prohibiting food trucks from selling alcohol, as people generally pick up food and get right back in their vehicles. Parks are different, though. People can spend hours enjoying an afternoon of good food and good friends at a food truck park. So long as they aren't driving with a beer in their hands, Hale asks, how is it different from a bar selling alcohol?

And, she wonders, how is her food truck park different from food truck festivals, where dozens of parks convene and sponsors sell beer for upwards of $10 a bottle?

"I understand the port-a-potties-versus-a-real-restroom issue," Hale says. But at festivals, there are rows and rows of port-a-potties and $10 beer. How is that fair?"

For now, Hale encourages people to bring their own alcohol to the park if they want to enjoy a beer with their burgers. She and her husband haven't yet started charging trucks to come serve at the park (as many food parks do), so all of the park's income is from non-alcoholic beverages. The Hales must sell a lot of Cokes and waters to pay the $6,000 a month rent on the property, and they know it would be much easier if they could just sell beer to the many customers who want to sit and enjoy a taco and a cold drink.

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