By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Mobile food trucks are cooking up a presence in the suburbs, with the uniquely urban idea of roadside dining taking hold in Andover.
But with the offer of a convenient, fast meal comes a challenge for food truck operators — finding a space to work.
Mess Haul — a van sporting B-17 bomber-style decals that first rolled into Andover in May — recently found itself on the wrong end of the town’s local ordinances.
After a busy day serving customers downtown recently, the gourmet food truck offering primarily a breakfast and lunch menu was slapped with a $20 parking ticket after idling in one place for too long.
The mobile operation owned by Andover couple Stefanie Auchterlonie and Mark Stout was ticketed June 28 after parking in front of TD Bank on Main Street.
Stout acknowledged he had parked for around four hours in a space designated as two-hour parking, and had overstayed the allotted time.
“We were busy, we had a line and we just didn’t pay attention” to the time passing by, Stout said.
“This was our own fault,” he added.
The ticket, however, is raising some questions about the town’s relationship with mobile dining operations and where they can operate. While all agree that food trucks must follow the letter of the law and not be given special leniency when it comes to parking regulations, some are suggesting changes might be in order.
Bob Lavoie, chairman of the Andover Chamber of Commerce and a lawyer, said town officials could consider creating designated areas for food trucks instead of having them occupy on-street spots that could otherwise go to downtown customers.
“Until that designated purpose occurs, these are just like any other vehicle on the road,” Lavoie said.
Stout would support having town officials establish a framework for the new ventures to hit town.
“It would be nice if we could have a couple of designated spots set up like a park with benches people can sit at and eat, kind of like a mobile food court,” he said.
Currently, food trucks, by definition, are considered restaurants and must receive an operating license from the Board of Health. Their operation on town roads falls under the purview of the Board of Selectmen, with the Police Department charged with enforcing all regulations.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Alex Vispoli said the issue of mobile dining operations taking up parkings spots hasn’t come before his board ... yet.
“I’d certainly be open to looking at it,” he said. “A year ago, we may have had one (mobile food truck), and now we have four. We’re encouraging business in Andover. It’s worth getting some clarity around it and taking a look at this issue.”
That could be done by seeing how other communities have dealt with food trucks and surveying the local operators to get a sense of their needs, Vispoli said.
In the meantime, Stout said he’s striving to avoid future parking woes by changing his battle plan for serving up meals downtown.
He’s now moving Mess Haul more frequently to abide by time restrictions on parking spots. The town allows vehicles to repeatedly move from one spot to another downtown. He’s also setting up shop in areas without time restrictions on parking, such as nearby Bartlet Street.
“We need customers to understand, if we close up shop, it’s not because we don’t like (that spot). It’s because we might get a ticket,” Stout said. “We want to stay in the good grace of the town and Police Department. They have a job to do also.”
See this week’s Andover Townsman for a closer look at the growing popularity of food trucks in Andover.