Baltimore Food Truck Entrepreneurs Sue City Over Vending Law

Institute for Justice · May 11, 2016

Arlington, Va.— Should Baltimore drive out mobile vendors to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition? That is the question raised by a new lawsuit filed today by two Baltimore-area food trucks—Joey Vanoni of Pizza di Joey and Nikki McGowan of Madame BBQ—and the Institute for Justice in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

Mobile vendors in Baltimore are banned from operating within 300 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that primarily sells the same product or service. In other words, it is illegal for a taco truck to operate near a Mexican restaurant, but a gyro truck can park right next door. Vendors caught violating the law face $500 in fines for each violation and can have their vendor’s license revoked.

The city’s 300-foot rule is especially hard on Joey and Nikki. The large number of pizzerias, Italian restaurants and BBQ joints in Baltimore make it impossible for them to operate their food trucks in large swaths of the city. Pushed away from where their customers want them, Joey is forced to rely on private events to stay in business, and Nikki avoids the city altogether.

“The 300-foot rule has nothing to do with public health or safety,” said Greg Reed, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represents the Pizza di Joey and Madame BBQ food trucks. “Its sole purpose is to protect brick-and-mortar business from competition by arbitrarily preventing food trucks from operating based on what they sell.”

Joey and Nikki are precisely the type of entrepreneurs that Baltimore should welcome.

Joey, a Navy veteran, opened the Pizza di Joey food truck in 2014 after returning from Afghanistan. Joey opened the food truck with two missions: serve the diverse neighborhoods of Baltimore delicious New York-style slices made in a 4,000 pound brick oven and provide job opportunities for fellow veterans. Unfortunately, because of the 300-foot rule, the Pizza di Joey food truck spends less and less time on the road.

“The 300-foot rule prevents me from operating in neighborhoods where my customers want me to be,” said Joey. “As a result, my truck is on the road less, which means fewer hours for my employees. Consumers, not City Hall, should decide where they want to eat.”

Nikki opened her food truck as an extension of the culinary business she founded to support her children as a single mother. She would like nothing more than to serve her pulled-pork sandwiches to Baltimoreans, but the penalties for violating the 300-foot rule make operating her truck in the city too risky.

“In a city hungry for opportunity and more dining options, Baltimore’s city council has no business turning away food truck entrepreneurs and the jobs they bring,” said IJ Attorney Rob Frommer. “But the 300-foot rule is not just bad policy, it is also unconstitutional. This lawsuit will protect the rights of Baltimore’s mobile vendors and entrepreneurs throughout Maryland.”