Protecting Property Owners and Food Truck Entrepreneurs from Protectionism  

Trace Mitchell
Trace Mitchell
 ·  February 1, 2023


Food trucks are a safe, efficient, and downright fun way for culinary entrepreneurs to serve their communities. And in recent years, food trucks have exploded in popularity—it seems that everyone loves them. 

Well, almost everyone. Because if there’s one thing IJ has learned over more than a decade defending the rights of food truck entrepreneurs, it is that one group consistently opposes their entry into the market: owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants. 

So when the city of Jacksonville, North Carolina, was considering whether to open its streets up to food trucks, it came as no surprise to us when Jacksonville restaurant owners came out in force to oppose any change that would subject them to greater competition. Nor were we surprised when the City Council did what we’ve seen so many others do: cave in to special-interest demands at the expense of food truck entrepreneurs and consumers. At restaurant owners’ behest, the Jacksonville City Council enacted rules that ban food trucks from more than 96% of the city and otherwise make it virtually impossible for food trucks to operate. 

But if we could have guessed the city and the restaurant owners’ response, they should have guessed ours. Because now IJ has taken the city to court to end its restaurant protectionism. 

Jacksonville’s rules cover everything from where food trucks can operate to how they can advertise. Most egregiously, Jacksonville’s rules ban food trucks from operating within 250 feet of certain properties, including any property with a brick-and-mortar restaurant, residences, or another food truck. Worse still, the city does not merely ban food trucks from operating on public roads; it bans them from operating entirely—even on private property, even with the owner’s permission. 

That doesn’t just hurt food truck owners; it also hurts entrepreneurs like Nicole Gonzalez, the owner of Northwoods Urban Farm, a general store and small engine repair shop. Nicole would love to invite food truck owners Anthony “Tony” Proctor and Octavius “Ray” Raymond to vend from her store’s large parking lot. And if Tony or Ray owned a restaurant, they would be allowed to vend there with no problem. But the city’s ban means that Nicole’s customers won’t get to enjoy Tony’s Florida-style seafood truck, The Spot, or Ray’s cheesesteak truck, The Cheesesteak Hustle. Instead, to operate legally, Tony and Ray are forced to drive their trucks to Camp LeJeune and other cities and towns, spending more time on the road and less time serving customers. 

That is where IJ comes in. Looking to build on our previous food truck victories by bringing novel claims on behalf of a property owner, IJ partnered with Nicole, Tony, and Ray to challenge these overly burdensome, unreasonable regulations under the North Carolina Constitution.

The right to invite others onto one’s property to do business is a fundamental component of property rights. Permitting property owners to invite restaurants while forbidding them from inviting food trucks strikes at the heart of that right. After all, what’s good for the restaurant-served goose is good for the food-truck-served gander—or cheesesteak.

Trace Mitchell is an IJ litigation fellow. 

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.