Matthew Prensky
Matthew Prensky · April 11, 2024

ARLINGTON, Va.—Today, the Institute for Justice (IJ) sent a letter to city officials in Nampa, Idaho, strongly urging them to cease all enforcement of current and future regulations against mobile food vendors who are doing business on private property and complying with all safety precautions outlined in the city’s code. Nampa’s current enforcement actions are unconstitutional, and they threaten to put entrepreneurs like Rae-Ann Birney out of business. 

Rae-Ann, a single mother of three boys, opened The Perking Spot with her best friend and business partner Sonia Champlin in 2019. The pair are passionate about the Treasure Valley and supporting their community. Many of The Perking Spot’s suppliers are Nampa small businesses, often brick-and-mortar stores who rely on Rae-Ann and Sonia. The pair also use their coffee shop on wheels to support various community fundraisers, donation drives, and GoFundMe campaigns. 

“Since opening we’ve also always partnered with other local businesses to invest in and help grow our local economy,” said Rae-Ann. “The products we serve are handcrafted with local ingredients and the money we’ve earned is put right back into our community. Local businesses supporting local businesses.” 

The Perking Spot trailer is run out of a large parking lot, which Rae-Ann and Sonia have a lease with the property owner to use, and the team’s trailer is powered by a private light pole, which Rae-Ann got a permit to install. For more than three years Rae-Ann and Sonia sacrificed everything, including their life savings, to build a loyal customer base. At no point did city officials take issue with any part of The Perking Spot’s operations until last fall, when Nampa randomly began enforcing the city’s current regulations. Most recently, Rae-Ann and Sonia have had to shut down their drive-thru—which had posed no safety concerns whatsoever—hurting their business, and the situation could get much worse. 

In addition to newly enforcing the current rules, Nampa officials have introduced new regulations that would double-down on the bans on food trucks parking overnight, and connecting to power poles, and would bar more than one food truck from operating in a lot at a time unless it is in an approved food truck court. Those rules would drive Rae-Ann and Sonia out of business and devastate other entrepreneurs. City leaders will consider the new regulations during a public hearing on Monday at 6 p.m. MDT in the Council Chambers at City Hall. 

“The Perking Spot has been good to Nampa,” said Erica Smith Ewing, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “But Nampa’s regulations are putting them out of business. This is not just unjust, but unconstitutional.”  

Nampa had not been enforcing its mobile food regulations until last fall, and it seems city officials may be acting in response to complaints by brick-and-mortar restaurants, who feel food trucks have an unfair advantage. That protectionism violates the constitutional rights of property owners and food truck operators like Rae-Ann and Sonia. Both the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions protect property rights and economic liberty, and require that Nampa have a legitimate reason, such as protecting public health and safety, to justify its actions. Doing the bidding of certain businesses isn’t a legitimate government interest, nor should it ever justify violating people’s civil liberties. 

IJ has spent decades fighting to protect the right to earn an honest living, including winning two different U.S. Supreme Court cases on the subject. And as part of its National Street Vending Initiative, IJ has defeated dozens of anti-competitive laws that harm street vendors and food trucks, including victories in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina among others.