Joey Vanoni and Nikki McGowan Marks are Baltimore-area mobile vending entrepreneurs. Joey is a Navy veteran and the owner of Pizza di Joey, a New York-style brick oven pizza food truck. The truck gave Joey the opportunity to not only serve delicious slices, but to also hire his fellow veterans. With the proceeds from his truck, Joey was able to open a food stall at Baltimore’s Cross Street Market. Nikki was the owner of Mindgrub Cafe a health-conscious food truck that allowed Nikki to share her love of cooking with Baltimore’s diverse communities.

Joey and Nikki are precisely the type of hardworking entrepreneurs that the Charm City should encourage. Instead, Baltimore has made it nearly impossible for mobile vendors like Joey and Nikki to succeed.

Since 2014, mobile vendors have been banned from operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that sells the same type of food, merchandise or service—including restaurants, cafes and convenience or clothing stores. Vendors that do face $500 in fines for each violation and can have their vendor’s license revoked.

The effect is to prohibit mobile vendors from operating in large swaths of Baltimore. The law is especially hard on food trucks, like Pizza di Joey and Mindgrub Cafe, because of the city’s many restaurants and other food establishments. Worse still, the 300-foot rule arbitrarily treats food trucks differently based on what they sell. So while a taco truck would be banned from operating near a Mexican restaurant, a gyro truck could park right out front.

This law makes absolutely no sense. Its sole purpose is to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition. That is why in May 2016, Pizza di Joey and Mindgrub Café filed a lawsuit against the city challenging its 300-foot rule as a violation of the Maryland Constitution. While a Circuit Court judge found the 300-foot rule unenforceable in 2017, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned that decision and reinstated the rule in 2019. The Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, then cemented that decision in August 2020, striking a blow to entrepreneurs in Baltimore and across Maryland.

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Street vending has been a part of the American economy since colonial times. 1 Today, it provides for many an invaluable opportunity to achieve the American dream. Unfortunately, many would-be entrepreneurs are often shut out of starting street vending businesses due to complicated, costly and ever-expanding government regulations. 2 Proximity restrictions like Baltimore’s are one of the worst impediments to success for existing and prospective street vendors. That is why Joey Vanoni, Nikki McGowan Marks and the Institute for Justice have joined together to challenge Baltimore’s 300-foot rule and create one less obstacle for Baltimore’s mobile vending entrepreneurs.

300 Feet of Brick-And-Mortar Protectionism

In 2014, the Baltimore City Council enacted the 300-foot rule. 3 Under the law, a “mobile vendor may not park a vendor truck within 300 feet of any retail business establishment that is primarily engaged in selling the same type of food product, other merchandise, or service.” 4 A mobile vendor is “any person that sells, distributes or offers to sell or distribute” food, merchandise, or services from “a motor vehicle on City streets or private property.” 5 Thus, a mobile vendor’s ability to operate on public or private property turns on whether it sells the same thing as a nearby brick-and-mortar business.

Penalties for violating the law are severe. In addition to $500 fines for each violation, the city may suspend or revoke the mobile vendor’s license. 6 After three violations of the mobile vending regulations in a single year, including the 300-foot rule, the City must revoke the mobile vendor’s license. 7 Once that happens, a mobile vendor cannot apply for a new license for an entire year. 8 Threatened with severe fines and the possibility of being put out of business, mobile vendors go out of their way to avoid neighborhoods with competing brick-and-mortar businesses.

This law creates 300 foot “no vending” zones throughout the entire city. For example, fashion trucks, which have gained in popularity in recent years, would find it hard to operate in Baltimore because they could not open for business within 300 feet of any clothing store. A fashion truck could even be prohibited from operating within 300 feet of a tourist gift shop or a convenience store that sells t-shirts.

But the proximity ban falls hardest on Baltimore’s budding food truck industry. With so many restaurants and other retail food establishments throughout the city, food trucks are prevented from operating in large swaths of the city and are forced to operate from undesirable locations away from potential customers. Food trucks have to steer clear of not only restaurants, but also fast food chains, sandwich shops, and cafes. Additionally, the severe penalties discourage prospective food truck owners and food trucks in nearby counties from operating in Baltimore at all. For these entrepreneurs, the penalties make the risk of serving food in the city too great. As a result, food trucks are left with fewer customers and consumers are left with fewer choices.

Pizza di Joey is owned by Joey Vanoni who joined with the Institute for Justice to challenge Baltimore's 300-foot ban on food trucks.

Baltimore’s 300-foot rule is not just bad policy, though; it is unconstitutional. The Maryland Constitution protects the rights of entrepreneurs like Joey and Nikki to earn an honest living free from arbitrary restrictions. There is no legitimate justification, including protecting public health and safety, to prohibit a food truck from operating on a certain block because a nearby brick-and-mortar business happens to sell the same type of food, merchandise or service. The 300-foot rule has only one purpose: To protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition. Economic protectionism is simply unconstitutional.

The Plaintiffs

Joey Vanoni and the Pizza di Joey food truck

Joey Vanoni owns and operates the Pizza di Joey food truck. A Navy veteran and current reservist, Joey returned from Afghanistan in 2013 and dreamed of opening his own pizza business. Rather than opening up a brick-and-mortar location, Joey envisioned a pizza food truck as a unique way to serve the diverse communities of Baltimore. Through hard work and the support of his friends, family and fellow veterans, Pizza di Joey opened for business in 2014.

Today, Pizza di Joey crisscrosses Baltimore providing authentic New York-style pizza from the truck’s nearly 4,000 pound brick oven. But the food truck is more than just a business to Joey. He sees it as an opportunity to give back to the community. Never forgetting the challenges he faced finding employment after his tours of duty, Joey now employs other veterans in need of work. 9

Joey is challenging Baltimore’s 300-foot rule because it threatens his lifelong dream of owning his own pizza business and because he believes that the city shouldn’t be limiting hungry Baltimoreans’ dining choices. Consumers, not government, should decide where and what they want to eat.

Nikki McGowan Marks and the Mindgrub Cafe food truck

Nikki McGowan Marks owns and operates the Mindgrub Cafe food truck. Although it is a labor of love, Nikki got her start as a culinary entrepreneur because she was confronted with the sobering reality of providing for her three children as a single mother. What began as a business offering cooking classes for students in Howard County, Maryland, led to the opening of the Mindgrub Cafe, originally Madame BBQ, food truck. From the truck she serves health-conscious menu items, such as quinoa bowls, black bean burgers, and salmon wraps, along side the barbeque staples she originally served when she first opened for business, throughout the Baltimore metro area.

The Mindgrub Cafe food truck, however, is not just another way to help support her family. Nikki uses it as an opportunity to inspire and give practical hands-on experience to future culinary entrepreneurs. Often former students help man the truck at special events in order to gain valuable cooking and customer service experience. Nikki hopes that her story inspires others to be bold in pursuing their dreams.

Nikki is challenging Baltimore’s 300-foot rule because it prevents her from successfully operating in the city. For Nikki, the possibility of receiving $500 tickets and having her vending license revoked is too great a risk. The 300-foot rule is creating a needless obstacle for Nikki and entrepreneurs like her eager to satisfy Baltimoreans’ diverse tastes.

The Defendant

The defendant is the city of Baltimore. The City Council passed and enacted Baltimore’s 300-foot rule on June 9, 2014. 10

The National Street Vending Initiative

IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative is a nationwide effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living by fighting unconstitutional vending restrictions in courts of law and the court of public opinion. As it has done across the country, IJ stands ready to challenge such restrictions, and it will help street vendors oppose attempts to shut them down through the use of unconstitutional protectionist laws.

The Litigation Team

IJ filed its petition in this case, Pizza di Joey, LLC v. City of Baltimore, on May 11, 2016, in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The litigation team for IJ in this case includes attorneys Greg Reed, Robert Frommer, and Ari Bargil. They will be assisted by Glenn E. Bushel of Tydings & Rosenberg, LLP.

The Institute for Justice: A History of Protecting Economic Liberty

The Institute for Justice is a public interest law firm that brings challenges nationwide in support of fundamental individual liberties. IJ has successfully challenged restrictions on economic liberty across the nation.

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