About food trucks, and what the future might be for them in Durham’s Rigsbee street corridor, Greg Hatem isn’t sure. Earlier this month, Hatem’s Raleigh-based development company, Empire Properties, announced its purchase of the old 7UP bottling plant on the corner of Rigsbee and Geer streets, property that includes Fullsteam brewery.
Hatem, through Empire, owns multiple restaurants in downtown Raleigh. The plan is to convert part of the building into restaurant space, he says. The company will open a second location of popular Raleigh barbecue joint the Pit at the site.
What that means for the food trucks that often park on the property remains an open question. On any given evening, patrons of Fullsteam, Motorco Music Hall and other neighborhood bars can balance their alcohol intake with pizza. Or Asian-style dumplings. Or any other dish served from one of the various food trucks parked on the sidewalk just in front of the brewery’s entrance.
The food trucks, and the arrangement Empire’s future tenants have with them, aren’t something the company is currently preoccupied with, says Hatem. “I know its what everyone is worried about, but right now we’re focusing on how to improve on the original Pit,” he says. “We don’t view them [food trucks] as competition.”
That may or may not bode well for the food truck vendors. Hatem says he's currently unaware of the details of food truck regulations in Durham. The decision could ultimately come down to what, if any, changes the Durham City Council approves this fall.
Food truck regulations in Durham are, in comparison with other cities in the Triangle, lenient. But city officials have recently indicated it could tighten certain regulations on where mobile vendors can operate. Controversy erupted last month when the city announced proposed changes to the Mobile Vending Provision. Among the more controversial amendments was a proposal that would bar food truck operators from parking on public property in Durham Central Park during special events. Another proposed change would exempt vendors who park on private property located outside of the downtown design district for less than four hours from obtaining a temporary-use permit from the city. Grace Smith, Durham City-County planning supervisor, says the proposals are still under review and should be finalized for the city council’s consideration by fall.
As for Fullsteam and its own relationship with mobile food vendors, owner Sean Lilly Wilson says that the brewery’s agreement with those hosted on the property is informal. That means Empire could change it if so inclined. But it's too early for speculation, says Wilson.
“As far as them wanting to make changes, I just don’t know right now,” Wilson says. But Hatem and his group are coming to the downtown Durham for a reason, he adds. "They are coming here because they like this neighborhood, so I can’t see why they would want to change; in the end, I’m sure we’ll all find a way to balance the needs of restaurants and food trucks," he says. The new Pit is scheduled to open next summer.