Street food vendors want overhaul of rules

The president of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition says he plans to meet with Fulton County and Atlanta officials later this week in an attempt to unravel the bureaucratic maze facing street vendors.

The issue came to a head Saturday when an inspector from the Fulton County Office of Environmental Health Services shut down two street food stands in Poncey-Highland – El Burro Pollo and the Atlanta Fry Guy – during the lunch rush for lacking permits. Outside food sales have been catching on in the corridor, and outraged regulars have been sounding off on the Fry Guy’s Twitter feed.

Leslie Santiago, who runs El Burro Pollo with her husband, told an AJC blogger that she thought they could sell food from a table on private property so long as the food was cooked inside their restaurant, Super Pan Latino Sandwich Shop, across the street. Fry Guy Andy Long, executive chef of Café 640, said he considered a table set up in the café’s parking lot to be an extension of the restaurant.

“Every other major city in this country is allowing street food and vendors and small businesses to exist, and it’s not as difficult to do it,” Long said, “I don’t know why Atlanta is so opposed.”

Greg Smith, an attorney, ice cream truck operator and president of the street food coalition, said the two stands ran into trouble because they lacked mobile food service permits issued by the county, which would allow them to sell food from a non-enclosed area. Another vendor, ice pop push cart King of Pops, wasn’t cited because its offerings are pre-packaged, and it had the proper permit from the state Department of Agriculture.

Technically, El Burro Pollo and Atlanta Fry Guy also needed mobile vending permits issued by the Atlanta Police Department, Smith said.

“You can see how frustrating all this must be for someone trying to run a small business,” he said.

Smith said the existing rules are left over from the 1996 Olympics, and they didn’t contemplate gourmet food being sold outside restaurants. He was already petitioning the city and county to streamline the permit application process, but the early Spring-like weather caught him off guard, leading to Saturday’s debacle. He said he’s looking for either administrative changes, or amendments to existing ordinances.

“The county was not being heavy handed. The county was enforcing the rules as they’re written,” Smith said. “Things got lost in translation. We just need a couple more weeks here so we can get a few things straightened out.”

It was not immediately clear whether the two business owners face fines. The county has not yet responded to an interview request, though it issued a news release saying it learned of the “illegal food vendor operations” through a blog on the AJC’s website.

The statement said three legal notices were issued, one to Atlanta Fry Guy and two to the Santiagos for having two mobile stations.

Long said he wasn’t sure about a fine, as he was out of town when the citation was issued. The Santiagos did not immediately return calls.