Downtown Greensboro restaurants upset about food truck decision

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The controversy over food trucks downtown Greensboro continues, as a handful of restaurant owners agree they need to work together to create compromise.

“Eighty percent of the food trucks during this pilot program are not from Guilford County. Not from Greensboro. And they’d don’t employ 75 people locally,” said Natty Greene’s Co-Owner Kayne Fisher.

Fisher says their business has gone down since the food trucks pulled into town.

City of Greensboro Communications Specialist Jake Keys told Fox 8, “In October… there were three trucks from outside of Guilford County out of 14 total participants. That is 21.5%, not 80%.”

Fisher said lunch business at Natty’s is down 50 customers a day and 150 customers on Fridays. He attributes the loss to the appealing quick and new meal options at the four food trucks the city council is allowing on public property for another six months.

The food trucks are permitted at lunch time during the week and at lunch and dinner time on Fridays. They’ve reported thousands of meals served so far in their trial period.

“We’re going to muscle through and do everything we can to stay in business,” Fisher said. “And we hope everybody does.”

At least 20 restaurant owners attended Wednesday’s City Council meeting, most begging council members to table the food trucks decision temporarily. The Council voted to allow the food trucks pilot program to continue for six more months.

Fisher said that’s essentially betraying the “brick and mortar” businesses that have invested in filling empty downtown store fronts.

“Instead of looking at the concerted efforts of all of us that helped revitalize downtown, add to that heartbeat, the city has now changed its focus on looking to be cool and trendy,” Fisher said. “At the expense of putting someone out of business? That’s not cool or trendy.”

Food truck supporters say the food trucks add variety to meal choices and attract more people downtown. The majority of city council members agreed Wednesday.

Mayor Robbie Joines said they didn’t feel comfortable controlling or limiting free enterprise of businesses. He said the law limiting food trucks downtown Greensboro should never have been implemented years ago.

Trevor Austin and Chris Flathers are Co-Owners of Stumble Stilksins.

“I lease our space for roughly $60,000 a year. (Food Truck vendors) pay $150 for their permits for the year. Where is the fairness there?” Austin questioned. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

Austin and Flathers said they’ve noticed a distinct decline in business, and attribute the loss to their proximity to the food trucks.

Just across from the Grasshopper’s Stadium, Greensboro’s oldest restaurant owners are also struggling to stay afloat.

“Acropolis has been a family-owned restaurant since 1967,” said Liz Contogiannis. “If you want to build your economy, the money has to stay in your city. In your county.”

Contogiannis is also bothered that food trucks are operating on public land, monitored and cleaned by the city. “We basically have financed something that’s to our detriment,” she added.

Meanwhile, downtown’s newest businesses are making their concerns heard, too.

“We need to be on this all the time,” said Nico Scabone, owner of Nico’s Italian Restaurant on Elm Street. “All the Restaurant owners need to follow up with the city council.”

Scabone said the process of allowing this pilot program happened so quickly, many restaurants did not realize what was happening.

People dining downtown Thursday did not believe the impact of food trucks is as bad as some are claiming.

“There are certain days when I’m just gonna have to grab something quickly, and others days when I might have a little more time,” said one customer.

Beth Fonorow disagreed.

“We are business people down here,” she said. “We can’t take someone to a business lunch to a food truck. Who’s gonna come downtown if our restaurants leave?”

For now, the food trucks are here to stay.

“They’re on wheels so they can leave if things aren’t good. We have bought into an idea,” Fisher said. An investment. My house doesn’t have wheels. My business doesn’t have wheels.”