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Food truck operators sue Town of Carolina Beach for right to compete

Published: Aug. 21, 2018 at 2:29 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 21, 2018 at 1:43 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Food truck operators are suing the Town of Carolina Beach over an ordinance they say makes it nearly impossible for food truck owners from neighboring towns to operate.

The owners of three food trucks together with attorneys from the Institute for Justice held a press conference outside the New Hanover County Courthouse Tuesday.

Michelle Rock, the owner of Mama Rocks Deserts and T'Geaux Boys food trucks, Aaron and Monica Cannon, owners of A&M's Red Food Truck, and Harley Bruce, owner of Poor Piggy's BBQ & Catering Truck say the town's ordinance violates the North Carolina Constitution.

"I don't know if they're protecting the restaurants and keeping everybody off the public but it expands into the private area too. We use our trucks a lot for catering and weddings and the ordinance is flat out we can't bring our trucks into town limits," said Poor Piggy's owner Harley Bruce.

In April, Carolina Beach leaders passed an ordinance which requires food truck owners who wish to operate in Carolina Beach to have a brick and mortar eating establishment open in Carolina Beach for at least a year before operating a truck.

"Carolina Beach has turned their island's bridge into a drawbridge to be pulled up on competition," said Justin Pearson, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs. "The North Carolina state constitution makes it illegal for towns like Carolina Beach to pick winners and losers by locking out businesses from neighboring communities. It is not the government's job to decide what people eat, or where they eat it. That choice belongs to customers."

The truck owners say the ordinance prohibits dozens of food trucks operating in the greater Wilmington area from competing in the market. Bruce said he has lost business in the area, because he can no longer operate for caterings and weddings.

Food trucks are not allowed to operate on public property, which the plaintiffs are not arguing. Instead, they want the right to operate in the private sector.

"Carolina Beach only allows food truck owners on private property, and we're not challenging that. There are property owners in Carolina Beach who want to invite property owners in the past but now they're not allowed to because of this ban on competition that Carolina Beach has passed," said Pearson.

Bruce said food truck operators are not looking to take away business from brick and mortar restaurants.

"Us as food truck operators, I can speak for about most of them, we're not going out and trying to take competition from any of the restaurants. If you ever look on our day to day treks of what we do, we go to the places where the restaurants aren't."

The plaintiffs hope to overturn Carolina Beach's regulations against out-of-town trucks.

"I'd like to see the laws reversed and them ease back on the food truck restrictions there and we'll go down there and feed the masses and make everybody happy," Bruce said.

WECT has reached out to Carolina Beach Manager Michael Cramer regarding the lawsuit, he did not wish to comment.

Town council members passed the ordinance at the April 10 council meeting. Below is the outline of the ordinance.

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