Food trucks at the brewery? Town meeting is Wednesday

Food trucks at breweries or wineries in town? Voters will decide — soon.

A special town meeting called in response to petitions circulated by the owners of the Nod Hill Brewery on Route 7 will consider a broadening of the circumstances that food trucks are allowed to operate for extended periods in a single location. The meeting is Wednesday night, July 25, at 7:30 in town hall’s lower level conference room.

The meeting will be asked to amend the town’s “peddling and vending” ordinance to allow “mobile food vendors” — food trucks and carts — to operate as permitted exceptions to the regulation so long as they are an “accessory to a brewery or winery,” operating at its location and with similar hours.

Currently in Ridgefield mobile food vendors are prohibited from setting up in one spot for more than 15 minutes, with grandfathered exceptions for two food vendors long-established in their spots when the rule was adopted in 2016 — the Chez Lenard hot dog cart on Main Street, and the Zwack Shack lunch truck on Route 7.

David Kaye of the Nod Hill Brewery said the petition effort grew out of feedback from customers.

“We have received an overwhelming amount of requests for food trucks at our brewery,” he said. “We wish to honor our customers’ requests and serve their needs as best we can.”

The town clerk’s office verified 393 signatures of Ridgefield voters on the petition. To require a town meeting, petitions must be signed by 2% of the number of registered Ridgefield voters — 364 signatures, based on 18,165 voters when the petition was received.

Under the proposed language, written by attorney Bob Jewell, mobile food vendors may operate “on the same property as the brewery or winery” and ”may only operate during the same general operating hours.”

Who holds the permit?

The town permits for the mobile food vendors to work at the location would be issued to the operator of the “primary use” — the brewery or winery — or the owner of that property.

The language also specifies that a permit granted to allow a food vendor as an accessory use “shall not entitle a mobile food service to conduct business anywhere else within theTown of Ridgefield.”

The selectmen scheduled the town meeting last month and wondered about the language limiting food vendors to “the same general operating hours” as the brewery. That wording seemed a little fuzzy: Why not just limit food vendors to the brewery’s hours?

First Selectman Rudy Marconi was asked to explore whether there could be changes to language that was the basis of the petitions calling for the town meeting.

The answer was no.

“We can’t change it,” Marconi told The Press. “That’s it. That’s the language of the petition, according to town counsel.

“That’s one thing we don’t like to do, is post an agenda for the town meeting and then the language gets changed,” he said. “... Someone who may have read the local publication says, ‘I don’t have a problem with that language’ — and then at the meeting it gets changed, and is something different than what was published. I think that can create issues.”

Brick and mortar

The petition seeks to modify a “peddling and vending” ordinance that’s decades old and was last amended in November 2016 when language on mobile food vendors was added, prohibiting them from doing business in one spot for more than 15 minutes.

That goal was of that change was to protect tax-paying “brick and mortar” restaurants from low-overhead competition by food trucks and carts — and Chez Lenard and the Zwack Shack “grandfathered in” as established businesses.

At the June 20 selectmen’s meeting, Rob Kaye of Nod Hill Brewery said the business drew about 500 people a day, and probably wouldn’t support more than one food truck at a time.

“There might be times we’d want to have a small festival,” he added.

David Kaye outlined the brewery’s concept to The Press in a July 17 email.

“We would plan on hosting gourmet, high-quality, locally-based food trucks, whose offerings compliment our beers,” he said. “We hope to follow the example of countless small breweries across the nation, who pair with food trucks to provide unique and casual food at their taprooms. It’s a great opportunity to collaborate with like-minded chefs and provide a wide range of different foods to accompany the beers we offer.

“The food trucks would be parked directly in front of our taproom entrance, which is several hundred feet from the road,” he added. “Food trucks would be strictly an accessory use to Nod Hill Brewery, and would only operate during our days of business.”

The Nod Hill Brewery operates four days a week: Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays noon to 9 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 6 p.m.

“I'd also like to emphasize and make clear that the public has the final say in this, and those voting residents who attend the hearing will be responsible for the final decision here,” David Kaye said. “We really appreciate everyone attending on July 25 who would like to see this happen.”