As lines for drive-through and carryout food options grow longer and longer during a busier-than-expected tourist season amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Jackson Town Council and staff are exploring how expanded food truck availability might help.
The council held a specially called meeting on Monday afternoon to discuss the topic, coming away from the approximately 20-minute meeting having not made a firm decisions, but instructing town staff to explore options. The council tasked Town Manager Larry Pardee with sussing out potential parking locations, from which restaurants could operate food trucks, and hours of operation, among other things — if the council did move to approve a food truck gathering place.
“Looking at the goal, I think, is important, and giving staff some ideas of the goal,” Mayor Pete Muldoon said. “The goal, for me, is to provide our local, working-class residents some other options other than going downtown. I’ve heard from folks [who], rightly or wrongly, they really don’t want to go out to restaurants right now and are interested in doing take-out.”
Muldoon later talked about how another aim of the idea of a food truck park or row would be to provide options to people who don’t want to get stuck in crowds.
“I think a lot of people, rightfully, are avoiding crowds and would like some other options to be able to just grab something really quickly,” Muldoon said. “I’ve seen the [lines of cars at] drive-throughs, the fast-food drive-throughs, spilling out into the highway at points, and if that’s the only option that we’ve got for people that’s really convenient without having to go downtown and park, I think we can do a little bit better than that.”
Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson suggested that the council limit any participating food trucks to those that are already currently licensed and in business in the Town of Jackson, rather than inviting an avalanche of applications for new food trucks. Muldoon agreed that participation should be limited to those already in operation.
Council members threw out a few ideas for a location for the food truck row, including Phil Baux Park at the foot of Snow King Mountain Resort. Though they didn’t necessarily all agree on a specific site, they did all concur that it should be away from downtown and Town Square.
This is the second time in recent months that food trucks have been considered by the council. At a late-May council meeting, the matter was discussed amid council deliberations over reopening the local economy. They opted at that time not to go forward with trucks, though ideas presented then could serve as a guide for town staff as they revisit the issue.
The issue has also blown up Muldoon’s Facebook page since he posted on Sunday about it, asking people for their opinions. By Tuesday evening, the post had garnered nearly 100 comments, with the overwhelming majority of people speaking in favor of the food truck idea. Among the few who spoke out against allowing such a food truck row was Will Bradof, co-owner and executive chef at Local.
Bradof wrote: “Working at Local right now doing take out. Currently no orders hanging. Just sold a few so far this evening. I fear that if a food truck was parked out front we would have sold zero. I vote no to food trucks. I don’t think locals are having trouble finding ways to eat at this point.”
And, though the food truck idea drew great support on Muldoon’s social media page, the council appears to be looking at allowing them only for a limited time. Morton Levinson suggested perhaps Labor Day would be a good cutoff date. The mayor agreed and said, “I think it will be easier to extend [the cutoff date] than it would be to cut it short,” when Councilor Jim Stanford opined that the end of September would be a better cutoff date.
“We’re in a pretty bad trajectory right now with our [COVID-19] cases, and we may actually see the restaurant situation get worse,” Stanford said. “We can fine-tune that later, if and when we get to a vote, but I would consider us to maybe look beyond just the end of August. It might be a while before we get out of this situation and we still don’t even know how long this crush of [tourist] visitation will continue.”