LARGO — You've read about it in the newspaper. You've seen it on television through programs like the Cooking Channel's Eat Street. It's the explosion of the food truck industry, and this city wants to jump on for the ride.
Largo is looking at joining the ranks of larger cities like Tampa, Miami and Orlando by making it easier for the mobile restaurants to set up shop. The tiny eateries are housed in trucks, like Tampa's often-touted Taco Bus.
At last week's City Commission meeting, Karisa Rojas-Norton, who works in Largo's economic development program, presented a proposed ordinance that would allow up to 15 mobile food vendor permits a year. The ordinance would allow the businesses to operate on private, nonresidential properties.
And on Thursday, Teresa Brydon, manager for the economic development program, confirmed that a truck rally coordinated by food blogger Todd Sturtz is scheduled to take place Nov. 19 in the 500 block of West Bay Drive, on the southwest corner of the property that houses Barley Mow Brewing Co., the former O'Houston's Pub.
Sturtz, who has organized food truck rallies in Tampa, said he's looking forward to staging a similar event with about 25 vendors in Largo. "The site is not huge, but it should be adequate, and I know there is a big interest in Pinellas,'' he said.
At Sturtz's first Tampa event in September, he underestimated foodies' interest. "We had 10 trucks and everyone sold out of food right away with lines being quite long. So now, wherever we go, including Largo, even though the space is limited, we need to triple our efforts from now on,'' he said.
Although the work being done on the Largo ordinance and the November truck rally are separate projects, they are both a result of Rojas-Norton's efforts, said Brydon.
Rojas-Norton, who joined the city a few months ago, was recruited from a similar post she held in southern California.
"We're fortunate because Karisa has extensive knowledge on the food truck boom from what she saw on the West Coast. She used information she had from out there, but she also studied rules and regulations in place here in Florida to create the ordinance,'' Brydon said. "From day one she wanted to see Largo ahead of the curve.''
During last week's City Commission meeting, Rojas-Norton explained how putting out the welcome mat for the mobile restaurants could eventually benefit the city economically.
"The proposed ordinance is an opportunity to be an incubator for these start-ups to test the Largo market,'' she said.
The proposed ordinance would grant up to 15 mobile food vendor permits a year at a cost of $200 for each, she said. Food trucks wouldn't be allowed on the public rights of way or on residential properties.
Although the ordinance has not reached final approval — the next step is to take it to a city work session — commissioners were open to the concept.
"There's so many food trucks that seem to be popping up selling gourmet food, and I think Largo would benefit,'' said Commissioner Woody Brown.
St. Petersburg is also beginning to revise its code to allow food trucks.
"Everyone seems interested in this,'' said Brydon. "And it's because the beauty of food trucks is that they are a unique urban experience that bring people out to a city.''
Brydon hoped that once a food truck owner experiences success on a small scale, he or she might approach Largo about opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. "We all know how hard it is to start a restaurant, and this whole thing creates a certain synergy.''
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected]