Town contemplates food trucks as a way to feed locals and visitors

JACKSON, Wyo. — Town Councilman Jim Stanford may have been only half-joking when he said he’s been approached by visitors downtown offering to buy a slice of pizza right out of his hands.

When the town council first entertained the idea of allowing food trucks back in May, it was an effort to help restaurant businesses stay afloat during a pandemic. No one anticipated the idea would be brought back less than three months later as an emergency meeting to address feeding visitors and locals alike as tourism has boomed and infrastructure is near busting.

Mayor Pete Muldoon called the special meeting of the council after seeing fast food lines at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Dairy Queen spill out onto the street at times. With more and more restaurants closing because of positive cases on their staff, and others that remain open doing so with reduced seating due to table spacing measures, feeding the masses has become a challenge.

“My concern, primarily, is local residents who are probably doing a lot of cooking at home, but a lot of the members of the working class are finding it difficult to find quick, affordable options,” Muldoon said. “The goal for me is provide local working-class folks other options, especially takeout. People are struggling. We want our restaurants to make it out of this intact. We also want to be conscious of people who are struggling on a limited budget. There’s no perfect answer here. We can do our best to be fair.”

Councilman Arne Jorgensen said the issue might be more about messaging providing wheeled competition to brick-and-mortar eateries. He said he’s been finding takeout without much difficulty so maybe it is a matter of directing out-of-towners where to look.

“With COVID and more people in town than we expected, and with a significant reduction in our infrastructure in place, we are experiencing challenges beyond that of a typical summer,” Jorgensen said. “I’m cognizant that if we did something quickly—with, what, four weeks left of peak—it would have to go into place very quickly, and could have unintended consequences if we don’t do it well.”

Stanford said he’s given up on ordering out until fall when things slow down.

“I’m going to have to find out where Arne is getting his takeout. I’ve given up on it until all this is over, or fall when it’s less crazy,” Stanford said. “And it could get worse for restaurants before it gets better. We still don’t know how long this crush of visitation will last.”

Councilmembers agreed to limit food trucks to those already registered to operate in Jackson. Some are owned by established, existing restaurants, others are stand-alone operations. To streamline the process

Hailey Morton Levinson said she would support food trucks under the conditions that it be a temporary measure and they did not operate on the square in front of retailers.

“The jury is out for me because I think people can go to the grocery store but I don’t like seeing the long lines, either,” she said.

To streamline the process, Muldoon suggested staff concentrate on one area—Phil Baux Park where the People’s Market is held and food trucks have operated on a regular basis. It would be far enough from the square to discourage crowd massing, and close enough to downtown to walk to.

The pursuit of food trucks in Jackson is not without opposition from a few local restauranteurs.

“I am vehemently opposed to allowing food trucks to operate in town. It simply isn’t fair to the year-round restaurants that have to pay high rents just to try and make it through the summer,” Hunter Frobouck, owner of E.leaven, wrote the council.

Fred Peightal, the managing partner of Cafe Genevieve and Orsetto, also urged the council to consider the cost of doing business in Jackson for traditional restaurants.

“The cost of doing brick and mortar business in the town of Jackson is very high. During this pandemic, I urge you to continue the current ordinance regarding food trucks. If there were to be any change I would suggest that only food trucks tied to brick and mortar businesses in the town of Jackson be allowed to operate in the public right of way,” Peightal commented.

Chris Hansen, the owner of Pizzeria Caldera, also expressed his opposition to food trucks.

“As a restaurant owner, I am acutely aware of the unexpected high volume of visitors to our community this summer and the difficulty of feeding them at restaurants, especially as all restaurants have limited their capacity in one way or another for a variety of reasons. While it may be a worthy discussion to have, I remain against food trucks being allowed in town to compete with existing restaurants,” Hansen wrote.

A final decision awaits after staff looks into the matter and presents something for the council’s regular Monday meeting on August 3.

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