Dallas Wants to Reform Food Truck and Trailer Rules, but What About the ‘Burbs
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One of the biggest differences between eating in Dallas and, say, Austin, is the relative lack of food trucks and trailers in Dallas. Yes, our town has several food truck parks, most notably in Klyde Warren Park. But if you’ve ever traveled to another city and enjoyed grocery trailers behind breweries, truck bays, and taco carts, you might be wondering: why can’t this happen in Dallas?
The answer is that Dallas strictly regulates trucks, and especially trailers that are stationary and drive in a specific location. That could change. Our city council recently set up a Mobile Food Sales Task Force to investigate and recommend changes to the rules. (Former Observer food editor Taylor Adams, who wrote the article referred to earlier in this paragraph, is now a member of the task force.)
No specific recommendations have yet been made. The committee is still talking to small business owners and looking for ideas in other cities. But I was curious to ask food truck and trailer operators in the Dallas area what they think of the current rules and what they would change.
I called Umar Baig, owner of Halal Mother Truckers, and Daisy Wall, who runs Tacos La Gloria with her family. Halal Mother Truckers is a 3 year old mobile truck that has visited numerous cities in North Texas and made appearances at local festivals. So Baig knows how the Dallas rules compare to those of its neighbors. Tacos La Gloria is a stationary trailer that opened in Oak Cliff on February 6th. This means that, as the new business owner, Wall has some recent experience in dealing with the Dallas rules.
Overall, both owners reported generally positive experiences with the Dallas rules: they generally agreed that the rules make sense and that the people who manage them are friendly and helpful. But they certainly still have feedback.
One hurdle both owners mention is that Dallas has its own truck and trailer equipment requirements. If you buy your truck from someone in Houston or Austin, you will have to spend a lot of money to adapt the device to the different standards of Dallas. Baig bought a former food truck in Houston and spent $ 4,000 on the upgrade. However, his truck now has much better fire protection features, including new fire extinguishers. So the costs were worth it.
A plate of beef fajita tacos from Tacos La Gloria, served on the opening weekend at Oak Cliff Brewing Co.
Wall and her family bought an immovable trailer from another city to start Tacos La Gloria and found that the water and grease tanks were a gallon too small for Dallas regulations, which meant buying entirely new tanks. Dallas also called for the addition of a barrier between hand wash and food prep sinks. They spent about $ 3,000 to meet the city’s requirements.
Wall found the inspection process helpful, but initially confusing.
“In the beginning it was a little difficult to figure out what was necessary or what was required of the city,” she says. “You can go to the website and they do all of the paperwork, but they don’t really tell you that you need to approve your plans before you can submit that paper, and then you need to get them approved before you can proceed with the inspection. It was difficult, but nothing a phone call couldn’t fix. Trying to get all of your records in order and get all of your approvals takes time. Make sure you get your appointments and so on. “
Wall recalls that her inspector was helpful in guiding her through the process, which included surprise involvement from other city departments such as the fire department and the occasional surprise bills for steps that the Dallas website hadn’t fully explained.
She says it took Tacos La Gloria about two months to go through the full approval process for its trailer. They originally planned to open in early 2020, but the pandemic put their plans on hold for almost a year. Instead, the trailer opened this month and serves tacos, machetes, huaraches, chilaquiles and an unusual specialty: folded and fried corn tortilla quesadillas. All tortillas are made from scratch.
Tikka fries at Halal Mother Truckers
Baig originally planned to make Halal Mother Truckers a stationary trailer as well, but is glad he chose a mobile truck that could drive across counties for events.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he explains. “It’s a lot harder. I have to sit through events and figure out where my lunch will be, where my dinner will be. “However, he is concerned about the rise of fixed-location trailers because he has seen other cities’ food truck scenes cut off from intense competition.
“I’ve seen cities where food trucks can be parked wherever they want and the food truck business itself is less profitable,” says Baig. “We’re starting to kill each other. If we have food trucks parked everywhere, the only way to lower our customers is by lowering our prices. When you decrease your worth, you decrease not only your worth but the worth of everyone else as well. “
But the solution, he thinks, is a different kind of oversight. When I mention food truck spots that are popular in east Austin and downtown Portland, Oregon, the tone changes immediately.
“That’s what I’m all about,” he says. “Please do that. And then the city can make money with us. And then everyone can go there and park there.”
Like Wall, Baig has had positive experiences with health inspectors in Dallas. “I’ve never had a problem with the city of Dallas. I let hardcore inspectors over. I once had a health inspector in my truck who literally measured ceiling to floor and checked my indicators, my lights, and I think hey man, the state is inspecting this. But as a food truck owner, you should know; This is how I make a living. “
The Tacos La Gloria burrito is a minimalist affair that consists only of meat, cheese, lettuce and coriander.
The most interesting lesson from my conversation with Baig came when I asked him to compare the Dallas regulations with those of the suburbs where he operates. Halal Mother Truckers’ most recent schedule included meals as far as Frisco, Prosper, and Bedford. He told me that some suburbs of Dallas are way tougher and less truck-friendly.
“Richardson makes you get a plethora of things before you can even inspect,” says Baig. “They give you permission for a fire inspection. They give you permission to sell your food. Then they inspect your food truck. “
And then there’s the ultimate food truck wasteland: Frisco, which requires a truck to be given separate permits for each address it parks at.
“You’re so hardcore, when I come to your house I need a permit and if I go to another house tomorrow I need a different permit,” says Baig. “It’s extremely difficult.”
According to Baig and Wall, Dallas can make it easier to get started in the industry by clarifying the approval process, creating designated food trailer spaces, and possibly aligning inspection requirements with those of other cities wherever safe.
But the other lesson from these conversations is also important: Dallas is not the only city in this region. If North Texas is to build a vibrant food truck community, the suburbs must reform their ways too.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer’s food critic since spring 2016. He also writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for Observer and MusicWeb International.