By JOHN T. WARD
Is Red Bank ready at last to unlock the gates that keep out food trucks?
The idea of easing restrictions on food truck operations came up at last week’s borough council workshop meeting, as it has in the past. But this time, it’s not being summarily rejected by the agency that promotes the downtown business district.
The vacant gas station at Riverside and Bridge avenues is a possible location for food trucks, says the borough administrator. (Photo by Trish Russoniello. Click to enlarge)
Borough Business Administrator Ziad Shehady floated the idea of allowing food trucks to operate on private property, “with restrictions, obviously.”
“There are a lot of food trucks that are interested in coming to Red Bank, and doing business in Red Bank, but they have no mechanism by which they can do that,” he said.
John Yarusi, owner of Johnny’s Pork Roll & Coffee truck, opened a brick-and-mortar restaurant at 8A Monmouth Street last November after several failed attempts to persuade borough officials to allow him to operate his truck in town.
Now prohibited by ordinance, food trucks might be permitted on “underutilized” properties where “projects are stalled” or in bankruptcy, Shehady said, citing the long-vacant gas station at Riverside and Bridge avenues as a possible location.
“Or maybe you’ve got properties that have large parking lots that maybe in the evening hours would benefit from food trucks,” he said.
Shehady said some suggested parameters defining what would be allowed, and the conditions, have been drawn up for possible consideration by the council.
“My idea is that we explore this a little further, because it can help the community, in terms of the economy,” he said. He said food trucks also might attract “new, emerging businesses.”
He noted that he had not yet discussed the idea with Red Bank RiverCenter, the administrator of the borough’s special improvement district, wanting first to gauge the council’s interest. In addition, he said, his idea didn’t call for allowing trucks within the district.
“I don’t know that, within their jurisdiction, there are many private properties that can host food trucks,” he said. “That’s not to say they don’t exist.”
In the past, RiverCenter has opposed food trucks, and RiverCenter executive director Jim Scavone told redbankgreen via email Tuesday that the organization hasn’t changed its position “yet.”
But RiverCenter, he said, “is currently in the process of re-evaluating food trucks in the district and at special events. We are currently having discussions with the business community and, specifically, with the restaurant community to weigh the pros and cons of allowing food trucks. As always, our focus continues to be on supporting the businesses in the designated RiverCenter district.”
Borough planning director Glenn Carter cautioned that brick-and-mortar businesses may object — though “that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” he told the council. And abandoned properties may remain undeveloped “because now there’s a revenue source.”
“The other option is to allow them on public property,” such as the borough hall parking lot, when not in use by the municipality or the Count Basie Center for the Arts, Carter said.
The idea of opening the gate appeared to have consensus support. Councilman Michael Ballard said he “was all for it, as long as they clean up the property.”
Councilwoman Kate Triggiano also endorsed the suggestion, noting that Teak restaurant on Monmouth Street was at one time interested in partnering with the Cinnamon Snail vegan food truck. That idea died a quick death in 2013.
Cinnamon Snail, owned by Adam Sobel, and another prominent food truck are owned by borough residents, Triggiano noted. Allowing them to operate here would keep the business in Red Bank “so they’re not going to Asbury Park or Gateway National Park at Sandy Hook,” she said.
Shehady said Carter will work up a draft ordinance for future discussion.