By Margaret Dick and Wesley Cutler
Food trucks could line the streets of downtown Lexington next year, if a proposal from Main Street Lexington passes muster with the Lexington City Council and the city planning commission.
Stephanie Wilkinson, a board member of Main Street Lexington and co-founder of The Red Hen, said she believes that bringing food trucks into Lexington will provide residents and students with a larger variety of food options and a vibrant social environment.
“The argument that people make for food trucks is that it creates a bigger market,” Wilkinson said. “Some cities have decided that they want to allow food trucks to come in to create more diversity of opportunity for different kinds of food.”
Food trucks have become a popular phenomenon across the country in the past 10 years, with thousands now operating in both big cities and small. A National Food Truck Association was formed last year to support the growing industry, whose annual revenues are estimated at $1 billion.
Charlottesville, Staunton and Roanoke have all changed city ordinances in recent years to allow food trucks.
Lexington’s Planning and Development Director Terry Harrington said city ordinances are currently silent on food trucks and zoning laws would need to be changed to explicitly permit them.
But food trucks sometimes face opposition when they arrive in communities because they have lower overhead than established restaurants yet compete for the same customers.
Wilkinson said she thinks food trucks will bring more visitors into Lexington and increase overall business.
“If you create more of a sense that Lexington is a place that has fun options, the possibility is that people would stay not just for the food trucks,” she said. “Which means more people are going out to eat which benefits all of us.”
Wilkinson said there are a number of opportunities for food trucks in Lexington, including at night.
“We are very committed to creating more nightlife downtown. Having comedy, open mic nights, even the local ukulele club playing,” she said. “And if nightlife extended until midnight then a food truck outside that venue would be fantastic.”
Wilkinson also said that Main Street Lexington would consider sending food trucks to Washington and Lee University’s third-year housing. The housing is still under construction but is expected to be finished by next school year.
While food trucks could benefit downtown Lexington, Wilkinson said that she wants to make sure they don’t take business away from the brick-and-mortar restaurants in town. Since there is currently no ordinance allowing food trucks, she hopes to tailor one that will benefit everyone.
“I have a draft of an ordinance, but I haven’t finished reading through it yet,” she said. “We want to see if there is a way to set up an ordinance that would fill the gaps but not feel threatening to the restaurants that exist.”
Wilkinson also sees the possibility for existing Lexington restaurants to have their own food trucks. Local places like Pure Eats have already been experimenting with remote locations to increase sales.
Catering to the college students
Kasey Potter, the manager of Pure Eats in Lexington, said she plans to buy a custom-made Pure Eats food truck and she hopes it will generate more activity in town after the restaurant is closed.
“We’re talking about purchasing a completely new food truck and actually going in with somebody and designing it to our needs,” said Potter. “We want to utilize it out at Lime Kiln during their summer concert series and then obviously bring it to town and do late night food Thursday, Friday and Saturday.”
Potter said Pure Eats has already had great experiences in the past preparing and selling food off-site. The burger joint has a concession stand inside the Virginia Horse Center and prepares food in a separate trailer on-site.
With a new food truck, Potter hopes to improve and expand this service.
“I think it would be targeted directly towards the students,” she said. “If we open from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. we would still serve alcohol so we would drag out a cooler of beer. You could get beer and a burger on the patio.”
Grayson Graham, a Washington and Lee junior, said he is happy about the possibility of food trucks in town.
“It’ll increase my quality of life by giving me another option when I want food,” he said.
Information also gathered by Taylor Gulotta.