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Austin food trucks must travel to get inspected. Soon inspectors may come to them.

A person in the window of a food truck smiles while handing coffee to a customer.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT News
Customers buy coffee at the Desnudo food truck in East Austin on Wednesday.

Lee esta historia en español

Sergio Trujillo started Desnudo three years ago as a table at the Barton Creek Farmers Market. Now, the line for his coffee often stretches across the food truck park on Webberville Road where he sets up shop.

But once a year, that all comes to a stop. That's because Trujillo has to shut down and move the truck to get a city health inspection.

Desnudo is one of more than 1,500 mobile food vendors operating in Austin, and each of them is required to get inspected annually at a city facility in North Austin.

"Small and micro businesses are the lifeblood of the Austin economy, and we can never underestimate how necessary food trucks and their owners are to the story of our great city."
Council Member José Velásquez

“For us it requires about a two-day process,” Trujillo said. “One day for sure we are closed, because the trailer has to go there at the time slot that we get assigned. But the day before we have to start moving the whole set up in the trailer park, moving the tables.”

Trujillo said the process is complicated and expensive. It also means a loss in profits.

The Austin City Council is trying to change that. On Thursday, the council approved a resolution that would bring inspectors to the food trucks and help streamline the whole process.

Council Member José Velásquez said the goal is to modernize the permitting process and make it more accessible, equitable and inclusive by ensuring information is available in multiple languages.

"Small and micro businesses are the lifeblood of the Austin economy, and we can never underestimate how necessary food trucks and their owners are to the story of our great city," Velásquez said. "Today, we are clearing numerous antiquated and tedious hurdles for small and micro business owners with a major emphasis on time and money — both of which can exist on extremely slim margins in the food truck universe."

Trujillo said on-site inspections will go a long way for small-business owners — many of whom are people of color — and people just starting out.

"It is important for the city to value mobile food vendors because it gives [business owners] an opportunity to try new things," he said. “And if doesn't work, that's OK. It's a very lean way to start your business, and it helps business owners to try the market and see if the idea works.”

While Desnudo needs at least two days to prepare for an inspection, Trujillo said he is luckier than many other food truck operators.

A person in an apron in the window of a food truck hands a coffee to a customer.
Michael Minasi
/
KUT News
Juan Trujillo talks with a customer at the window of Desnudo. The food truck loses two days of business when it closes to get inspected.

"There are different sizes of trailers that require much more work,” he said. “This is a 15-foot trailer, some people have 30-foot trucks and require a forklift to lift it up and then have a big truck to move it there, and do the same operation over and over.”

If the truck fails an inspection or something needs to be fixed, Trujillo said, the owner then has to go back and get re-inspected. Moving a truck can also damage equipment inside.

On-site inspections would mean more staff and equipment, increasing costs. That could mean the price for a permit goes up — something city staff will look into.

“I think many of us would be willing to pay the extra money for them to come to us,” Trujillo said.

He said he'd also like to see the city extend a permit for longer than a year.

Velásquez said city staff will look at how to implement the changes and come back with recommendations in May.

“This is an opt-in thing,” he said. “We just want to be able to provide the option for more flexibility."

And more importantly, he said, the goal is to ensure Austin is a place that fosters the growth of small businesses.

"As Austin becomes increasingly more unaffordable, it’s important that we do everything we can to support our small and micro businesses," Velásquez said. "And this is a first step in helping remedy a pain point and modernizing our processes to be more efficient and equitable."

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at lmorenolozano@kut.org. Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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