Food trucks are becoming a common sight on city streets across America, but behind the scenes these new businesses are being hindered by anticompetitive laws. In Baltimore, for instance, food trucks cannot operate within 300 feet of brick-and-mortar businesses that sell the same product. Readers of the Baltimore Sun learned about this last Friday in a front page story that highlighted an Institute for Justice case challenging the Baltimore rule.
Joey Vanoni and Nikki McGowan are entrepreneurs in Baltimore who own their own food trucks and joined with IJ to challenge the city’s 300-foot rule. Joey owns Pizza di Joey, a pizza food truck, and Nikki owns Madame BBQ, a barbeque food truck. Although the city allows for two New York-style brick oven pizzerias to operate next door to each other, if Joey parks his truck near a pizzeria—or anywhere within 300 feet of one—it’s illegal. As Joey said, “[t]he law itself is discriminatory and it’s pretty clear — the fact that I’ve elected to serve pizza on a food truck should not be a factor in applying the law to me.”
The Baltimore Sun story also mentioned a similar 300-foot rule in San Antonio successfully challenged by IJ. The city prohibited food trucks from operating within 300 feet of brick-and-mortar businesses selling food unless they obtained written permission from each of those brick-and-mortar competitors. After IJ brought suit, the city council voted to repeal it. At the city council’s open session, before votes were made, Acting City Attorney Martha Sepeda said: “The 300-foot rule is to protect the restaurant and not necessarily in a constitutional way… The case is not defensible. I don’t know how else I can say that.” The city subsequently repealed the ban and allowed food trucks to operate throughout the city.