2014-06-06 / Front Page

Food trucks soon roll into South Portland

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


Sarah and Karl Sutton of South Portland peek out from their Bite Into Maine food cart, a fixture at Fort Williams Park for the past three seasons. With the market for food trucks having opened up in Cape Elizabeth and Portland in recent years, South Portland plans to follow suit with an enabling ordinance, beginning at a city council workshop next week. 
(DukeHarringtonphoto) Sarah and Karl Sutton of South Portland peek out from their Bite Into Maine food cart, a fixture at Fort Williams Park for the past three seasons. With the market for food trucks having opened up in Cape Elizabeth and Portland in recent years, South Portland plans to follow suit with an enabling ordinance, beginning at a city council workshop next week. (DukeHarringtonphoto) SOUTH PORTLAND — As a small city with a burgeoning reputation as a place for foodies, given the number of restaurants that have opened up in the past year, South Portland is getting set to roll out the welcome wagon for even more great eats.

That’s because an ordinance provision is in the works that will allow food trucks to roll into the city as a regular business opportunity. Food trucks have set up for special events, such as various festivals in Bug Light Park, or last month’s New England Ultimate Frisbee championship series at the Wainwright Athletic Complex. However, the new rules would allow the trucks to become a permanent fixture in the city.

“That’s coming June 9th as a workshop item,” said City Manager Jim Gailey, who added that exact language has yet to be created.

“Staff has met and we’re working on a matrix, but we have a couple of things we need the council to give us guidance on before we draft up an ordinance,” Gailey said Monday.

The move follows similar allowances for food trucks made in 2011 in Cape Elizabeth, and 2012 in Portland.

“Why not allow it here if it’s something that someone is interested in doing,” said Gailey.

That may come as welcome news to the owners of Taco Trio, located at the corner of Ocean and E Streets in Knightville. The owners recently announced plans to join the growing food truck market starting at the 41st annual Old Port Festival in Portland this weekend.

“I like the restaurant, too, but this is a fun thing to do,” said Taco Trio owner Manuel Pena. “It’s definitely a lot of work, but the dream would be doing it every week in the summer.”

Cape Elizabeth opened up Fort Williams Park to food carts in 2011 in an attempt to help support ongoing capital works projects at the 90-acre historic site. The town received 11 applications for five slots that first year, including South Portland residents Karl and Sarah Sutton, who launched their Bite Into Maine lobster cart specifically to take advantage of new opportunity.

Since then, they have won numerous accolades. Bite Into Maine earned a spot among the Top 40 food carts in America, as determined by the Food Network; a place on the Top 25 lobster rolls list in Food & Wine magazine; and a Top 10 sandwich listing by FlipKey.com. In addition, Bite Into Maine garnered an invitation last year to participate in the “Lobster Roll Rumble,” sponsored by Tasting Table in New York City.

“We were the smallest of 20 competing restaurant, by far, but we placed in the Top 10,” said Karl Sutton, on Monday.

Not surprisingly, the Suttons report steady sales at Fort Williams Park. However, they are only one of two vendors in the park this year. The Fort Williams Advisory Commission drew no interest in the remaining license applications, for which the minimum bid is $3,000.

“We’re not really sure why interest has fallen off,” said Public Works Director Bob Malley.

Portland also found interest soft in its food truck licenses, created in 2012 after strong interest prompted creation of a special task force to investigate what was then a new idea for the Forest City.

“I think they just needed time for people to organize and get their stuff together and figure out how they were going to execute,” said Sutton, who attended many of the task force meetings.

“There was some thought at the time that, well, we passed this ordinance, where are all the food trucks?” said Sutton, “but I think what they found is that if you create an opportunity, people will fill it.”

“Now they have so many trucks, and they run the whole gamut of food types,” said Sarah Sutton.

Unlike Cape, which limits vendors to specific foods and named locations, for which each vendor must submit an application, Portland has, in addition to its initial plan, created spaces on Congress Street between Pearl Street and Franklin Arterial that are available to vendors on first-come first-served basis. No advance proposal is required for those locations. Portland also bars food trucks from operating within 65 feet of a “brickand mortar” restaurant, even after 10 p.m., when they are allowed to roam anywhere but residential neighborhoods.

While the Suttons are content to remain at Fort Williams Park, they are encouraged to see the potential opening of their market in South Portland.

Their advice to the city, they say, is to create electrical hook ups for vendors, especially in places of special ambiance, like Bug Light Park. The couple negotiated a similar hook up this year with Cape Elizabeth, albeit in the form of a 100-foot-long extension cord, which cuts down on the noise of an on-site generator.

“[South Portland] city councilors may say, well, who’s asking for this, but it’s just a matter creating an opportunity and seeing if people jump in there to take advantage of it. Then the market will decide. They are the ultimate arbiter of what they want to eat, and how they want to eat it.

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