It’s time for the sun to rise on Sunrise food trucks

Justin Pearson Executive Director, The Institute for Justice Florida Chapter
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Entrepreneur Jim Heins has many reasons to be thankful this holiday season, and not working in Sunrise, Florida, must be one of them. After all, his story of job creation could never have happened in Sunrise; it would have been illegal. Thankfully, on December 11, city officials may change that.

Jim owns the Latin Burger and Taco food truck, which is one of the pillars of the Miami food truck scene. Customers love his tasty offerings so much that he plans to expand his business to include numerous brick-and-mortar restaurants. He takes pride in having already employed more than 50 people, a number that could skyrocket as his expansion moves forward. In short, Jim is living the American Dream.

And Jim is not alone. Over the last few years, the food truck craze has expanded across South Florida, resulting in dozens of new businesses, hundreds of new jobs and thousands of satisfied customers. This dynamic new industry is especially important in a state where unemployment continues to exceed eight percent.

Rather than embrace these mobile entrepreneurs, Sunrise is missing out due to its anti-competitive and needlessly restrictive regulations. Fortunately, city commissioners will be talking at their December 11 meeting about how to create a thriving food truck industry in Sunrise.

Before food truck fans can celebrate, however, the reform-minded commissioners will need to overcome the greatest hurdle to entrepreneurs in Sunrise. That hurdle’s name is Joe Scuotto.

Scuotto is a restaurant owner in Sunrise, and he wants a total ban on food trucks. His reason is simple. As he recently was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel, “Why would I want to allow a rolling restaurant in my city when we have restaurants here already that struggle every day?”

Of course, like any citizen, Scuotto has the right to voice his concerns, no matter how self-serving they might be. The problem, though, is that Scuotto is a Sunrise commissioner who wants to use his political power to protect his business from competitors.

But it is not the government’s job to pick winners and losers in the marketplace. That right belongs to consumers. Rigging the market to protect political insiders is not just bad business, it is unconstitutional. Entrepreneurs have the right to earn an honest living under both the Florida and U.S. constitutions, which do not allow the government to enact anti-competitive laws.

Moreover, Scuotto’s protectionist arguments hold no water. The Institute for Justice recently released a report, “Seven Myths and Realities about Food Trucks,” which debunks the arguments most often used to stifle food truck entrepreneurs.

One popular myth is that food trucks take away business from restaurants. But in fact, as IJ’s report points out, food trucks increase the number of customers available to restaurants. Indeed, food trucks around the country are helping to bolster local restaurant industries. For example, George Harris, the owner of Mundo, an award-winning upscale restaurant in Las Vegas, has observed that food trucks help his business by bringing new customers to the neighborhood.

Another myth is that food trucks do not pay taxes. But food trucks, just like brick-and-mortar restaurants, pay taxes and obtain food safety licenses. Food trucks are even held to the same health and safety standards as restaurants. And as a forthcoming IJ report will show, food trucks are just as safe and sanitary as any other food service provider.

Perhaps the most overlooked benefit food trucks provide is increased competition with entrenched businesses, resulting in better products, lower prices and a greater variety of tasty options from which customers can choose. Sunrise officials should make policy based on what is best for consumers and the community as a whole, not what benefits a few politically connected industry insiders.

The citizens of Sunrise deserve better. This Tuesday, December 11, let us hope that Sunrise rejects Scuotto’s call for protectionism and instead embraces the nationwide food truck revolution that allows entrepreneurs like Jim Heins to thrive.

That’s a holiday gift that everyone in Sunrise can enjoy.

Justin Pearson is the executive director of the Institute for Justice Florida Chapter.