Shift the focus


Food trucks and where they can — mostly can’t — be located is the issue that has grabbed the attention of Tisbury’s select board. 

While Edgartown has been meeting and working with the town’s restaurant owners to figure out a way to provide outdoor dining for those who don’t have it already, and Oak Bluffs has also permitted outdoor dining, as well as closing Circuit Ave. for one day a week, Tisbury select board members are focused on limiting the number of food trucks in town because they consider them “honky-tonk” and a potential drain on “brick-and-mortar” restaurants.

While Tisbury slept, Edgartown and Oak Bluffs attempted to solve problems for their hurting restaurants now.

For nearly an hour at Tisbury’s June 9 meeting, board members heard from the public about their proposed food truck regulations. Guess what? There wasn’t anybody in the Zoom crowd applauding the board for its tough stand on food trucks.

Instead, they were trying to understand the convoluted regulations about where food trucks can be located — rules board members themselves couldn’t clearly articulate. One of the proposed regulations essentially gives veto power to a restaurant within 200 feet of a proposed food truck. And there were lots of questions seeking to understand the point of allowing food trucks only on the same property where there’s already a common victualer’s license. What impact will the regulations have on catering trucks? There were few answers.

Bottom line: This all feels like an attempt to block a proposal by Robert Sawyer and his family to use the former site of Hinckley’s Hardware for up to four food trucks, while the mixed-use development proposed for the 61 Beach Road property wends its way through the permitting process. The food trucks aren’t the endgame for the site, but they are a good use of the property in the interim.

The idea that food trucks are somehow going to have an unfair competitive advantage against brick-and-mortar restaurants is absurd. They’re not going for the same audience. The closest restaurants are Beach Road and Garde East. We don’t think either fine dining establishment is going to cower at the presence of food trucks nearby.

This feels like a missed opportunity for Vineyard Haven and the Island. In places like Portland, Ore., and the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston, food carts have become an attraction. A food truck park like the one proposed by Sawyer could be a draw for a town that always seems to come in third behind Edgartown and Oak Bluffs when it comes to attracting visitors.

Meanwhile, an idea that showed some promise to help Vineyard Haven restaurants in the short term never got a public airing.

Adam Epstein, the promoter who brought the town Beach Road Weekend, had an idea to help salvage the season for some restaurants that can’t easily accommodate outdoor dining. His idea was to use Veterans Memorial Park in Vineyard Haven as an outdoor dining venue. Epstein said he would put up the money for the tables and temporary picket fences to provide social distancing. He wanted to provide a place for musicians to perform, screens for movies, and a beverage station to serve alcoholic beverages.

Good idea?

We think so, but we never got to the details to make an informed decision, because before it was vetted publicly, select board members let the people whispering in their ears form the narrative and kill it. Apparently, the pushback came from parents who said the town shouldn’t use the park because it’s needed for youth sports. 

Couldn’t the park accommodate both? We’ll never know.

Now Tisbury has absolutely no plan to help its restaurants, though they finally authorized town administrator Jay Grande to review and approve outdoor seating plans for restaurants. For years, Tisbury restaurants lost out on summer business because patrons couldn’t get a mixed drink with a meal. Now they’re likely to miss out because customers will have more options in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown for an outside dining experience.

We wish the select board would spend more time trying to help restaurants get through this pandemic, and put their onerous and unwieldy food truck regulations on the back burner.