Ocean Shores OKs food trucks after debate

Ordinance will change food service landscape for mobile units, brick-and-mortars

Food trucks can set up shop in Ocean Shores for the first time ever.

The Ocean Shores City Council last month passed an ordinance allowing food trucks to acquire a mobile vending unit business license, permitting the trucks’ operation on both private and public land in the city.

But the ordinance didn’t pass without backlash from the food truck community and brick-and-mortar restaurants in Ocean Shores, two groups that still have concerns — and hopes — about what impact the ordinance might have on their businesses when tourism season rolls around next summer.

Previously, food trucks, or mobile vending units, weren’t allowed within the Ocean Shores city limits except for at public events, according to Scott Andersen, city administrator for Ocean Shores.

But when the public voiced its support for food trucks during the summer of 2022, the Planning Commission suggested the council examine the rule banning mobile vendors.

“The citizens had been very vocal about wanting food trucks,” said Ocean Shores City Councilor Frank Elduen. “The reason is, we get so busy down here in the summertime there are people waiting hours to get into a restaurant.”

“It just seemed like the natural thing to do was bring in some food trucks,” he said.

The council heeded the advice of the Planning Commission and presented an ordinance in an Aug. 8 meeting agenda which allowed food trucks to obtain a special permit to operate in business zones.

Although the ordinance allowed vendors to operate legally, it also capped truck size and imposed a $200 monthly license fee — restrictions vendors said were unprecedented and unreasonable. Over 15 public comments were submitted to council in response to the proposed ordinance, many from vendors saying the $200 fee was too high of an expense and would likely deter them from vending in Ocean Shores.

That’s when Elduen — along with council members Lori Scott and Rich Hartman — formed an ad hoc committee to rehash the ordinance.

“The three of us went through that original ordinance and made a lot of corrections and made it a lot easier for food trucks to operate here in town,” Elduen said.

The new ordinance, which passed at a Sept. 12 meeting, dropped size restrictions — other than an 8-foot minimum awning height — for trucks and the $200 monthly fee in lieu of a $250 yearly license fee.

According to the ordinance, food trucks can operate as long as they have a valid business license with the city of Ocean Shores and a mobile food unit license for the city.

In an email to The Daily World, Lori Johnson, executive director of the Washington Food Truck Association, said the redrafted ordinance is a “step in the right direction” for vendors, however, she pointed out that the $250 annual fee is still more than double the fee for trucks in Seattle or Bellevue. Johnson also said that doesn’t include the amount private businesses might charge trucks for vending on their property, and questioned the reasoning for a fee for trucks parked on private property.

According to Elduen, the fee is similar to what Westport charges for a mobile unit license.

Food trucks are an asset to a tourism-based economy, according to Johnson. She said they are one of the most “efficient uses of public spaces” and will create new jobs, expand culinary options and reduce congestion during the busy summer months.

But some brick-and-mortar businesses need those extra customers, according to Ron Lambert, operations manager of Bennett’s Fish Shack in Ocean Shores.

While Lambert said he’s not “adamantly opposed” to food trucks, and was thinking about running one himself, he expressed concern that food trucks will “take a portion of the money that will usually be going to brick-and-mortar.”

That portion of money isn’t just extra cash — the overflow of tourists provides enough money for brick-and-mortars to stay open during the off-season, Lambert said. While it’s likely many food trucks will leave during the winter months, restaurants will continue to pay building costs. He said many restaurants have to put money in savings to sustain themselves when the summer rush is over.

“We need that revenue that we earned during the peak season,” Lambert said. “It’s been that way in Ocean shores and in coastal communities.”

But other brick-and-mortar establishments have argued food trucks will bring more tourists to Ocean Shores and boost the local economy as a whole.

Roy Seeman owns the Ocean Pours Taproom in Ocean Shores. The business sells beverages plus wings and sausages for food, which usually isn’t enough to keep people around for dinner, he said. He said he plans to host food trucks at his outdoor patio.

He said many restaurants got “bogged down” with customers last summer. That meant they were less likely to spend money in other parts of the town, he said.

“There were a lot of people not even going because it was such a pain to try to get food (in Ocean Shores), it’s just not really an option,” Seeman said. “When they left, they took their tourism dollars with them.”

Seeman acknowledged food trucks would likely hurt his own food sales, but would boost his customer base overall and help him sell more beverages.

“We’ve got that nice main street with all kinds of different shops, that if people can grab food from a food truck and continue walking and shopping, I think they are going to stick around,” Seeman said.

The lack of tourists during the winter season in Ocean Shores means the town will likely have to wait for summer to see how mobile units will change the food service landscape. According to Ocean Shores City Clerk Sara Logan, the city hasn’t received any mobile food unit license applications since the ordinance passed.