Dodge City's mobile food businesses may seem like rudimentary street operations to some restaurant owners, but others say that kind of business affects them.


    Dodge City's mobile food businesses may seem like rudimentary street operations to some restaurant owners, but others say that kind of business affects them.
    Restaurant owners say the requirements for them are stricter than for mobile food vendors. For example, they say, mobile food vendors aren’t required to install smoke extractors since they cook the food in their homes.
    Installing the device smoke costs approximately $15,000 and must be supervised by the Dodge City Fire Department.
    On the other hand, mobile food vendors argue that the city fees they pay now are higher than for restaurant owners. In November of last year, the Dodge City Commission passed an ordinance which designates peddlers as temporary businesses, meaning they are required to obtain temporary business  permits.
    The temporary permit is limited to 12 days and needs to be renewed every six months.
    The city charges $350 per month, $500 for three months or $2,000 a year for permits.
    Data from the Dodge City clerk’s office shows that approximately 18 temporary businesses were registered with the city as of November. The city ordinance says  to get a permit, a temporary-business owner must present a sales taxes certificate from Kansas Department of Health and Environment, plus written permission from the owner-occupant of the property where the business will be located.
Paying city fees
    A majority of mobile food vendors are Hispanic, and many operate beside bars or near convenience stores, mostly at night.
    Adolfo Almaraz owes a restaurant and a mobile food business, El Pastorcito. He said the city requires him to move his business to a different location every three months, so then he must look for a commercial place to rent.
    “Rent prices are about $600 a month, and since we must move every three months we want rent only for that period," Almaraz said. "But place owners prefer to sign a yearly deal because that is more profitable for them."
    He said the city fees are higher now than before the ordinance passed.
    “Before, I could get only one permit a year and I paid only one hundred dollars," he said. "Now, I must renew permits every three months and I pay much."
    Almaraz said mobile food vendors are profitable because many people prefer to buy cheap food from them rather than spending more money at restaurants.
    “Also we are supervised by the health department twice a year and we pay a $100 annual fee,” he said.
    Charlie's Smokin BBQ owner Brad Petters said the ordinance didn't affect his business.
    “The weather is what affects my business more, since the sales slow," he said. "I am renting this place to the city, and I pay $2,000 a year. I come from Liberal to Dodge City every weekend all year round."
    Petters sells different types of food, including sandwiches. He also has a mobile kitchen in which a cook's helper prepares the food while he attends to his customers.
    Armando Alvarez, who owns the Tacos Jalisco restaurants, said restaurant owners must satisfy stricter requirements concerning trash and waste control than mobile vendors.
    “The operation cost for a restaurant owner is higher; we pay utilities, electricity, gas and the rent of a local (site) is between $2,000 and $2,500 per month," he said. "Mobile food vendors mostly cook in their homes the food they sell, so they aren’t required (to meet) certain requirements for a kitchen.
    "I feel they affect my business because they do not pay what I need to pay every month to keep operating the same kind of business."
Higher operating costs
    Not all owners are so down on the carts.
    Maria Lazcano, owner of the Inn Pancake House restaurant, said she didn't believe that mobile food vendors affect her business.
    “I believe we all have the right to work honestly, and if they comply with requirements, they aren’t affecting someone else,” she said.
    However, she said a restaurant owner's expenses are higher than they are for mobile food vendors, who require only a wheeled wagon to operate.
    “I pay $2,500 in rent and more than $3,000 in electricity and gas a month, plus $360 a year to renew a business license, and also I pay the annual taxes,” she said.
    To Mike Casey, owner of Casey's Cowtown Club and Delmonico's restaurants, the main concern with mobile food vendors is the sanitation.
    “They don’t have water service available to wash their hands very often, and they don’t have a food storage place under rigorous control as we are asked to do by the authorities," Casey said. "The food processing in restaurants is more under control."
    He said he wondered if mobile food vendors report their sales in the same way that he does, and if they pay their taxes properly.
    But Casey dismissed the idea that mobile food vendors are in competition with his restaurants.
    “I don’t believe they affect my business directly, because I have an established clientele that is always willing to spend 20 or more dollars for a good dish," he said. "Probably mobile food businesses affect fast food businesses more."