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The owners of the month-old Banana Leaf Indian food truck — which received good marks from the Times last week — got an unwelcome surprise just before the July 4th weekend: a visit from Little Rock code enforcement, and the news that the lot where they've been set up since they opened isn't properly zoned.
Shan Pethaperumal, husband of Banana Leaf's owner Poorni Muthaian, said that the owner of the salon at 201 N. Van Buren St. where the truck has been parked assumed the property was zoned for commercial use. After Pethaperumal applied for an electrical hookup at the site, however, he was informed by the city that the lot had actually been a commercial property for so long — over 35 years, according to the owner — that it pre-dated city zoning restrictions and had been "grandfathered in." According to the City of Little Rock's peddler's regulations, a mobile food truck can set up with the permission of the owner in any paved lot that's zoned C-3, C-4 or "Urban Use" — classifications that include most city businesses.
"The owner is working to get it rezoned, so that is no issue," Pethaperumal said. "I'm trying to communicate this to the city and get some more time." He said he hopes to get an extension that will allow them to continue operating there while the issue is sorted out.
Mike Juiliano, owner of the popular cart Hot Dog Mike's, said he hasn't had any problems from zoning issues since starting his business a year ago. Juiliano said he works to stay within the city's rules.
Juiliano said that regulations, if they're followed, are good for business. Though the idea of a food truck free-for-all might sound like a good idea to foodies, Juiliano said that in cities like New York, which has very few restrictions on mobile food sellers, carts and food trucks often set up in the street in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants. That's bad for both civic harmony and businesses.
"It's just a matter of doing your homework and figuring out how to make it work for you," he said. "There's laws with everything ... Is there room for change? Always. But let's do it smart and let's get together and try to stay within what the city asks us to do."