If you live in New Orleans, you probably love food. If you’ve ever been to or heard of New Orleans, you’ve probably heard that we love food. If you didn’t know that, you do now. One of the recent trends in the NOLA Food food market is the food truck. These kitchens-on-wheels are appearing at a rapid pace, which I understand to be happening all over the country. Their mobility, low cost of entry, and relative novelty make them a great choice for an entrepreneur or small business owner who wants to break into the restaurant business but doesn’t have the financing to open a traditional restaurant.
New Orleans food trucks are going through a battle with antiquated, local laws. You can read a little more about the dispute from Gambit or the Times-Picayune. At the heart of the problem is the the New Orleans Municipal Code, which has an entire section devoted to “Peddlers and Itinerant Vendors” of food. The problem lies with how city inspectors enforce the code. Food trucks say that they’re being targeted unfairly, and are subject to laws that don’t apply to them. The inspectors, of course, give the laws a broad meaning.
That long-winded introduction brings me to the topic of today’s post: How one word can change everything. Check out Sec. 110-191 from the Municipal code from the link above. Here’s the relevant section:
All sales of fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh, frozen, or cooked seafood from trucks at a fixed location on city sidewalks and streets shall be permitted only in accordance with all other provision of law pertaining to the registration for necessary permits and licenses and only in accordance with the following provisions:
The provisions really aren’t necessary for this discussion. What’s interesting to me is the use of the phrase “trucks at a fixed location.” What is fixed? Are trucks ever fixed? Is it fixed when it’s not moving? Is it fixed if you have a detachable trailer? This is an example of terrible drafting on the part of whoever drafted this code. I can’t guess as to the drafters intention, but I think any food truck on wheels can make a good argument that they are never in a fixed location.
How does this apply to small business? This is an example from the city code, but you can bet somewhere in one of your business’ contracts there’s one word that throws the whole thing off. Remember to read those contracts closely, and when in doubt, hire a small business lawyer to go over it for you.