Mobile food vendors react to newly approved ordinance

<p>Gabriela Rodriguez, co-owner of Tacos Xavi, pours sauce on freshly cut fruit cups on Wednesday in one of her mobile food trailers near Payless Shoes. Both she and her husband, Luis Rodriguez, have been following the mobile food regulations for the past several months.</p>

Maria Del Rosario Mejia has owned Taqueria Tecoman on Highway 395 in Hermiston for four years, but she said a license fee recently approved by the city could send her business over the edge.

Monday, the Hermiston City Council approved an ordinance that, among other things, requires mobile food vendors to purchase a license six months after the legislation goes into effect. The ordinance will not take effect until 30 days from Sept. 9.

The ordinance also requires the businesses to have an approved location and move from their location each night, as well as limits the number of mobile food vendors to nine.

Using a translator, Mejia said Wednesday she cannot possibly afford the $500 needed to obtain a mobile food vendor license from the city.

When asked if the license fee should start at a lower amount and be progressively increased, she said that might help.

“It’s a really high cost of maintaining the truck,” Del Rosario Mejia said.

Her expenses will add up, she said, as the price to purchase a license from Umatilla County rose from $250 to $378 earlier this year.

She said she pays $250 each month to the property owner for the space, $62 for power and $45 per week for propane, among other expenses.

If no changes are made to the ordinance, she said she may need to close her business.

While the fee is hard for her to handle, Del Rosario Mejia said it will also be hard to move her mobile food truck, which has a canopy and lunch table.

Both furniture pieces are prohibited under the new ordinance.

Del Rosario Mejia said she likes the established business hours of 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and the limit on the number of mobile food licenses.

She said she’ll likely attend the next Hispanic Advisory Committee at 7 p.m. on Monday at City Hall to speak about the ordinance.

Although she felt the fee was high, Gabriela Rodriguez, co-owner of Tacos Xavi and Frutas Frescas, said she thinks she can afford the expense. She feels the ordinance requiring no tables could have an impact, though.

“They can still survive, but people are going to be asking for the table,” Rodriguez said using a translator.

Councilman John Kirwan said earlier this month the mobile vending committee — consisting of himself, George Anderson and Manuel Gutierrez — decided on the $500 fee because they felt the amount added value to the businesses.

“If you’re going to limit them to nine mobile vendors, you want to have a value to the license so they’re assigning value to their business,” Kirwan said. “So if they want to sell it, there’s already value established.”

Other requirements in the ordinance have drawn different responses from mobile food truck owners and customers.

Edgar Fuentes of Logan, Utah, and two friends ate lunch at a table outside Taqueria Tecoman Wednesday underneath the canopy’s shade.

Fuentes said having the canopy and lunch table makes it more comfortable for customers.

“I wouldn’t eat here if it wasn’t here,” Fuentes said. “I don’t think anybody would.”

Tacos Paracutin, however, already abides by the ordinance in several capacities, including having no tables or canopies. A short counter is available on the mobile food truck.

Tacos Paracutin, which Rodrigo Angel has owned for the last 19 years, also moves each day from its location near Greg’s Sleep Center and generally doesn’t operate between December and January.

Maricela Medrano, Angel’s daughter, said her family agrees with the city on the ordinance, including the fee.

“It’s just like another fee,” Medrano said. “It’s understanding. I’m surprised they didn’t do it before. It’s not that big of a deal.”

The limit on the number of vendors also benefits Medrano and her family.

“There was a moment there when we thought there were too many (mobile food vendors),” Medrano said. “Just the way they looked on the outside with the tables and the chairs.”

Medrano said her customers use a counter on the side of taco truck, and her and her family prefer that to a table.

“We’ve never liked the idea of the whole table and chairs ’cause then people think it’s a restaurant, and it’s not, it’s like fast-food, kinda.”

Medrano also agrees that vendors should be mobile.

“We’ve always moved,” she said. “There’s a few pros in what they did.”

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