Gabino Robles operates Gorditas Mi Durango, a Mexican food truck based in north Fort Worth, seven days a week. He’s been in business there for three years, but the path to opening a successful food truck wasn’t easy.
“You have to go to one place, and then you have to go to another for the permits, and then you get inspections, and you have to go to code enforcement,” Robles said. “And then you still have to get food handlers, managers. I mean, it’s a little hectic.”
His dream is to open up multiple food truck locations for Gorditas Mi Durango across the county, but those costs can add up quickly. Several cities in the area have their own food truck permitting process, meaning a food truck licensed in Fort Worth won’t be able to operate in places like Arlington or Euless unless they apply for another, separate permit.
“Once you get one (food truck), it’s either you get another one or you get an actual establishment where you work out of,” Robles said. “That’s basically the goal once you get started.”
A new pilot program in Tarrant County is intended to make that goal easier to accomplish. Come September, food truck operators will be able to go to the Tarrant County Public Health Department and receive a permit allowing them to operate anywhere in the county, bypassing the need for multiple applications to each municipality. Tarrant County alone has 41 separate incorporated areas. Currently, the county provides permits for 34 of those areas.
The legislation establishing the pilot program was introduced by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, who represents Keller, Colleyville, Grapevine and part of Euless.
“We had to fight people off from including their counties (in the bill),” Russell Schaffner, assistant county administrator for legislative affairs, said at a July 11 commissioner’s court meeting. “We didn’t want to get too big, we wanted to try it as a pilot, because everyone thought it was a great idea.”
Sabrina Vidaurri, an associate director for Tarrant County Public Health, said the county worked closely with Capriglione on the legislation.
“This pilot program was a great way to help our residents and businesses by reducing administrative red tape and redundant permits,” she said.
Fort Worth has the most food trucks of Tarrant County’s municipalities, but the legislation’s passage surprised the city.
“Nobody asked us our opinion,” said Wyndie Turpin, the code compliance superintendent who manages Fort Worth’s food truck permitting. “It surprised us that it passed. … There weren’t any of us that expected this to occur. And we really had not had any prior discussions with Tarrant County on how we were going to implement this change until the bill was passed.”
Fort Worth first began issuing its own food truck permits and conducting inspections in the mid-90s, Turpin said. Since then, the program has grown to manage about 800 food trucks. City employees are tasked with ensuring the trucks meet city and state standards, doing in the field and annual inspections and ensuring truck employees have the proper food safety training.
The good thing, Turpin said, is that Fort Worth and Tarrant County already use the same computer, making it easier to transfer permitting data to the county. But handing those tasks over to Tarrant County Public Health could pose workload problems, she said. The legislation did not provide any funding for expanding the number of county staff handling food truck permits.
“They’re getting a vast amount of work thrown at them,” she said. “I know they’re going to do the best job they can do. I know they’ve already started preparing the (permitting) schedule.”
Vidaurri said it’s unclear how big of an increase the county will see in permits, as “many vendors may currently have multiple permits from any of the cities and Tarrant County Public Health.”
The county’s permit and inspection program is funded through fees, she said, and officials are in the process of reassignment efforts to cover an expanded permitting area. Tarrant County will also now receive the fees for permitting that previously went to cities like Fort Worth.
In addition, Vidaurri said, the county will expand the number of days and hours it’s open for food truck permitting.
Which cities currently have their own separate food truck permit programs?
- Fort Worth
- Grand Prairie
- North Richland Hills
Turpin also anticipates some confusion from food truck operators. Food trucks whose permits aren’t set to expire until later this year don’t need to rush to the county on Sept. 1, for example.
“Each month, as that food truck vendor’s permit expires, then they will then transfer over to Tarrant County,” she said.
Fort Worth’s assistant code compliance director Cody Whittenburg understands the purpose of the legislation is to reduce the number of obstacles food truck operators face.
“I think we can also honor that. And that there may be some benefits to those small business operators. We want to support that,” he said.
Turpin said the city will send out a letter to every Fort Worth food truck explaining the changes, and roll out a larger communications plan in August.
The Senate sponsor for the legislation, Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, told local government committee members in a May meeting that the legislation seeks to shift the responsibility for permitting and licensing away from the cities and solely onto the county they are a part of.
“By creating a system where a universal license exists within the county, mobile food service establishments can plan their budgets accordingly, and would no longer need to worry about compliance issues as they cross a road into a new city’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Bryce Blackburn, co-owner of the food truck Big Kat Burgers, is no stranger to the complicated city-to-city permitting process. While Big Kat is now permanently parked on Bryan Avenue in Fort Worth, when it first opened, the truck traveled through Fort Worth, Arlington and several other areas whose permitting is already done by Tarrant County.
“I know the trucks that are traveling are going to appreciate it a lot,” he said. “Because some of them, I mean, I’d have to do Tarrant County and Fort Worth across the street from each other. It’s like, ‘Can’t y’all just talk to each other?’”
Blackburn estimated he spent about $500 annually on permits alone while the truck was still moving across city lines. Some permits were harder to obtain than others, and came with additional costs; in Arlington, Blackburn had to install an automated fire suppression system before he could get a permit. That wound up costing about $2,500.
“But I have never been mad about us having it,” he said. “Hell no. The safety of it? I’m cool with that.”
The Birrieria y Taqueria Cortez food truck sits at its permanent location on Rosedale Street. The truck opened in 2020. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
Omar Gonzalez is the manager of Birrieria y Taqueria Cortez food truck on Rosedale Street. He said the pilot program is a good opportunity for trucks that want to expand beyond a single city. He pointed to customers who might be interested in eating at a food truck but don’t give it a chance because of the distance.
“People will have an opportunity (to try new food trucks),” Gonzalez said. “ ‘Oh, I gotta drive all the way over here,’ but what if that trailer could move? That would be a good business opportunity.”
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