Local health officials say the prospect of food carts in New Canaan raises concerns about the food itself as well as problems for brick-and-mortar, established restaurants that have taken steps (sometimes expensive steps) to comply with what’s required to provide their own outdoor seating.
Though no one formally has applied for a permit to sell food out of cart in New Canaan, enough interest has been expressed in doing so that town officials are looking at what’s on the books now to handle the situation.
Here’s what they’ve found: not much.
“What we are lacking is a process to deal with this,” Administrative Officer Tom Stadler said Friday during a Board of Selectmen meeting. “We do not have guidelines.”
Part of the Town Code (see PDF attachment) addresses “itinerant peddlers”—and in those cases the first selectman is allowed at any time for any reason to revoke a peddler’s permit—but it’s not clear just how to handle food carts. For example: Can they park in a paid spot and occupy that spot if they hold a license?
New Canaan Director of Environmental Health Briggs Geddis said it’s important to distinguish food carts from trucks that sell food, and that from a health perspective, the matter goes far beyond parking.
“Carts are preparing food in an open-air environment, so right there you start with huge issues,” Geddis said.
“We understand the charm of carts on the sidewalks, that it’s a kind of New England type situation,” he continued. “But we also have to understand that we as members of the Health Department really have to look at it on a health basis. We have had several restaurants that have to comply [with health code] and if we now suddenly banish all those requirements we have done, and have carts that don’t have toilet facilities and hand-washing facilities and other issue—no screening and all of these similar little issues we faced all along with restaurants … you cannot do that. We really have to look at this thing carefully. You cannot stop with just a police and public works type of thing, you have to look with our department and say, ‘How does this meet with the health department [standards]? Is there going to be some jeopardy with flies flying around and the bird droppings?’ ”
Present at the meeting was at least one prospective food cart vendor: Toby Weisbrot.
He said a hot dog cart does have a covered sink and that hot dogs are cooked ahead of time and just kept hot on the cart. Items such as buns and toppings are kept in stainless steel areas that also are covered, Weisbrot said.
Geddis replied that even if there’s an awning over the top of a cart, its sides are open, adding that if the town allows one hot dog cart operator to set up shop, other vendors could follow.
“We have to look at the worst-case scenario because our purpose as the health department is to protect he public,” Geddis said.
Though proponents say they like the convenience of a food cart vendor, “We have to go beyond that,” Geddis said. “People say they’d love to have a hot dog cart in town. We can’t get involved in that issue.”
First Selectman Rob Mallozzi said while the town will investigate and discuss the matter further, it's out of the question is food cart vendors would set up on a sidewalk because they're meant for pedestrians.