Avon Town Council split on allowing out-of-town food trucks in Avon

Currently, Rocky Mountain Taco — with its trailer between Avon Station and The Westin — is the only operator with an active vendor permit to operate a food truck in town.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

In May 2020, the Avon Town Council amended a town ordinance to limit food trucks to only those that were operated by an existing restaurant or food purveyor business in Avon.

On Tuesday night, the resolution again passed in front of Town Council, with town staff requesting that the council members take another look and consider allowing providers outside of Avon. (This ordinance does not apply to special events, during which the town does allow food vendors in Nottingham Park.)

“I think we’ll have more success if we open it up, said Danita Dempsey, the culture, arts and special events manager for the town.

Currently, Rocky Mountain Taco — with its trailer between Avon Station and The Westin — is the only operator with an active vendor permit to operate a food truck in town. And while the business is local to the county, it is not an Avon-based restaurant or food purveyor. Instead, Dempsey said it has been “grandfathered in” to that restriction.

Since the council made the ordinance change, Dempsey added that only one Avon business applied for and received a permit to operate in the town. El Sabor Mazatlán, she said, did submit an application and received a permit to operate in the town. However, due to “staffing restrictions during the pandemic and/or equipment failure didn’t actually come into play more than a couple of times, Dempsey said.

There was one additional Avon business that began the application but did not complete it amid pandemic-related challenges, she added.

Dempsey said the town has received other calls and emails from other food trucks requesting operation in Avon, none of which were based in the town and subsequently did not apply for permits.

In opening up the ability for outside vendors to obtain Avon permits, Dempsey said it could respond to a community demand, referring to the 2021 Community Survey. In the survey, 48.7% of respondents reported wanting “More food and beverage opportunities in the park during the summer.”

However, Town Council was split on whether opening up the permits to outside business was a good idea.

Council member RJ Andrade, who also serves as the general manager at local restaurant Agave, said he was “pretty against this all the way, adding more food trucks.”

“It’s just a slap in the face to all the brick-and-mortar restaurants who have been paying taxes and going through the shoulder seasons and the slow times and putting time and effort in,” Andrade said. “To just have these out of towners in and just take all the money from the park; I’m just not a fan of that at all.”

In addition, he said that food trucks are “notoriously bad for the community,” and have a “pretty sketchy track record,” in terms of health and safety when not permanently set in a location.

Council members Tamra Underwood and Amy Phillips both supported this position, with Underwood saying she felt the town has a “loyalty or an obligation to our brick-and-mortar restaurants to not compete with them.”

Phillips said that while she appreciated the intent of the change, she didn’t think that any changes should come this year to “give our brick-and-mortar another year to recover.”

“I don’t think right now is the time to wing it,” Phillips said.

On the flip side, Council member Lindsay Hardy argued that the change could bring new options and vibrancy to the town core, especially for residents and workers in Avon.

“Why not bring them into Avon? It’s very inviting,” Hardy said. “From a land planning perspective it really can build community, especially for lunch hour.”

Hardy added that a number of restaurants in the town aren’t open until dinnertime and that “business people need a quick place to grab a bite and walk to.”

“I will never say we shouldn’t support our brick-and-mortar, but it also gives a little touch of competition,” she said, also adding that maybe the ordinance could institute smaller time frames for permits for out-of-town vendors.

Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes and Council member Scott Prince also supported changing the ordinance to give it a shot. Both Prince and Smith Hymes — in addition to Underwood and Council member Chico Thuon — were on council when the change was made and reiterated their support for local businesses

“I voted for this when we passed it in 2020 and I fully respect local restaurants’ positions. I think what’s changed is, there’s a whole lot more people in town now,” Prince said, adding that with the change, “I don’t see a bunch of food trucks coming in — it’s hard to get here, for a food truck to make it over the pass — I don’t see it as a hindrance to local businesses and if it does become an issue, a future council can change it. I’m willing to say, let’s give it a try and see what food trucks do come in.”

Smith Hymes said that because there wasn’t much buy-in from the local restaurants, she wanted to “see how it goes on a limited basis.”

Regardless, all council members said that the town needed to be thoughtful about the locations that the vendors could get permits for.

“I don’t want them taking up parking spaces and I don’t want them in immediate proximity of our restaurants,” Smith Hymes said. “I do think that a truck that is in close proximity to a truck that has similar sort of quick, similar price point food — that isn’t fair. But, filling a gap about food in a particular location is not going to impact our brick-and-mortar.”

With council split 3-3 on the matter — with seventh Council member Thuon absent during the discussion — council postponed the discussion to a future meeting at which time Town Manager Eric Heil said staff could present additional ideas and options on the matter.