Impossibility City: Why Is Louisville So Backwater?

Really, what the crap, Louisville? Why is it we’re allowing Lexington and New Albany (really, flipping Indiana!?) to trump us on the food truck scene?

Why are we bogged down in silly ordinances that make it nearly impossible for super-clean, innovative and healthy food trucks to do business in this town?

The local food scene is abuzz lately with the myriad ways in which Metro Government is apparently trying to make it impossible for these folks to operate. Lil Cheezers, for instance, has been quite vocal on Facebook about obstacles they face while trying to conduct business in Louisville. And others are beginning to speak up.

Our favorite (we’re invested) Morels Food Truck isn’t really wading into the fray, but they’re encountering city problem after city problem that everyone else faces. As a result, they’ve started selling their products in local retail outlets until things can be ironed out. (How’s that for entrepreneurial spirit?)

The buffalo “chicken” wrap available at places like Rainbow Blossom and Heine Bros blows our mind on the tasty scale. And it’s rather healthy and vegan. (See? Food trucks aren’t just deep-fried pits of awful – they’re healthy and delicious outlets of awesome.)

While Greg Fischer’s staff are tepidly examining ways in which city codes need to be adjusted, it’s time for the Metro Council to do the same. It’s time for some Democrats and Republicans to come together to make it possible for Louisville to join the 20th century. (We’ll work on the 21st later)

There are lots of crazy pieces of city code floating around and many within Metro Government can’t tell us what is and is not applicable to mobile food trucks. But there are a few that just boggle our mind.

Take, for instance, some code that could apply to mobile vendors that want to serve, say, on a stationary basis in a parking lot somewhere. Look at the craziness that’s involved:


C) In addition to written application, a stationary vendor on private property shall provide the following:

1. A notarized written authorization from the business owner to conduct the applicant’s business at the place so noted on the application.

2. A drawing of a scale not greater than 50 feet per inch and not less than 10 feet per inch, which drawing shall depict the following information:

a. The portion of the property to be occupied by the vending operation;

b. The portion of the property to be used for automobile parking and the number of automobiles accommodated in said area;

c. The locations of driveways providing ingress and egress to the property;

d. The location of existing building and structures located on the property noting the use of each building or structure so identified.

Mind boggled? There’s more:


C) No vehicle, other conveyance or temporary stand shall be a closer than four hundred (400) feet from any other vending operation, and there shall be a minimum of four hundred (400) feet separation from any residential use or residential zoning district. The distance shall be measured as the shortest distance between the nearest point of the vending facility to the closest residential property line or district.

D) No vehicle, other conveyance or temporary stand shall be located closer than twenty (20) feet from any building or structure on the licensed property or adjoining property.


G) Vending operations shall provide a minimum of two parking spaces. Vendor shall not locate in any minimum required parking space for other businesses on the site. Parking spaces may not be shared with other uses on the site. If enough parking cannot be provided, the use may not be located on the site.

I bring this up because some folks in Metro say they apply to food trucks, some say they don’t. No one seems to have solid answers.

And when mobile vending is actually mentioned? Hoo, boy. Just… Well, just take a look:


B) No mobile vendor shall sell or vend from his or her vehicle or conveyance within one thousand (1000) feet of any public or private school grounds during the hours of regular school session, classes, or school related events in said public or private school, except when authorized by said school.

C) No mobile vendor shall sell or vend from his or her vehicle or conveyance within three hundred (300) feet of the entrance to any business establishment offering as a main featured item or items similar products for sale which is open for business.

D) No mobile vendor shall sell or vend from his or her vehicle or conveyance within three hundred (300) feet of any restaurant, cafe, or eating establishment which is open for business.


F) No mobile vendor shall park, stand, stop or allow a vehicle to remain in any place than is necessary to transact immediate business. In no event shall the operation stand longer than fifteen (15) minutes in any given location. At the exception of the fifteen (15) minutes, a mobile vendor must begin moving to a location at least two hundred fifty (250) feet from the first location.


H) No mobile vendor shall conduct business within three hundred (300) feet of any hospital, or building used for religious worship when services are being conducted therein.

Vendors can’t park in a fixed location for more than 15 minutes – but it could take them 30 minutes to prepare secured equipment and another 30 minutes to lock things down before moving. Does that make sense? It’s not like these operations are ice cream trucks (which can’t operate after dark, anyway).

The trucks can’t operate on private property – even at the request of the property owner – without a written and notarized application with a hand-drawn rendering of the property. And, according to some, they can’t operate at that location for more than 14 days and then can’t return for up to 30 days.

What the hell?

This can’t be Possibility City when we’re implementing ordinances (as recent as 2009) that kill food options. I mean, what sense does it make to try to nourish the food deserts in the West and South Ends when these folks can’t even get their healthy and affordable options into the hands of the hungry?

Jim King? Kelly Downard? Tina Ward-Pugh? Tom Owen? You awake?

18 thoughts on “Impossibility City: Why Is Louisville So Backwater?

  1. I’d love to see these food trucks, especially ones with the healthy alternatives. One can only eat at Subway for lunch so many times or have the unwich at Jimmy John’s.

  2. Well, it looks like new standards have to be written and that takes time, staff and money. Both the LDC and the code of ordinances will have to be on the same page with mobile food carts and that takes time as well. Don’t even get me started about the public comment period because people worried about public safety, competing businesses and private property owners, and those community design advocates will all want their voices heard. Sorry, love your reporting and commentary (especially on animal control) but just because you don’t like the pace at which this issue is moving doesn’t mean it isn’t in play or that nobody is intested. I doubt they just sprunb up over night in San Fran or Portland.

  3. For the record: We’re talking about food trucks, not carts, which can already operate with ease. And I barely scratched the surface on all the issues facing food trucks.

    Where did I say no one is interested or that I don’t like the pace?

    This has been an ongoing issue for years. Our system is antiquated. While other cities use things like Google Earth and fancy things like photographs to illustrate property, Louisville still requires a hand drawn rendering that’s to scale. Just bizarro stuff.

    By the way – you are in my most favorite place on earth, Karen.

  4. I am Matt Davis, owner and operator of Lil Cheezers Gourmet Grilled Cheesemobile.

    I was actually contacted by Mayor Greg Fischer’s office and they set up a meeting with me. Chris Poynter and Brandon Cohen (my spelling might be wrong) were extremely receptive and willing to help.
    Basically (if basic is even possible) what happened was that 3 years ago an ordinance was passed to regulate pop up vendors on the side of the road selling swap meet Nikes and fake Persian rugs. They were also selling food and anything else they could to make money. By the addition of the word “food” in that vendor ordinance the regulating agencies took it upon themselves to police up all mobile food vendors that weren’t compliant with the local vendor ordinances. Unknowingly infringing upon liberties given these mobile food vendors by the Health Department which is a state entity. Local trumped state for about 3 years and that was clearly not the way its supposed to work. Once that was realized by the Mayors Policy Analyst he called the IPL and basically got the problem solved. The Inspections, Permits and Licenses division and more specifically the division of Alcohol and Beverage control are still charged with making sure we are permitted properly by the health department and we are doing everything we are supposed to be doing but we are no longer required to meet the requirements of the local ordinance regulating Stationary and Mobile Vendors and Peddlers as long as we are legal with the health department.

    Phone calls were made by the Mayor’s office and we are no longer regulated by these local ordinances. Mobile food operations are taken care of by the health department and the rules are relatively simple. As long as we operate ethically and don’t generate complaints then they will let us operate like any other restaurant.

    Thanks for the article, I love all the excitement food trucks are generating these days. I have been in touch with Stan Chase of Morels, as well as, a dozen other food truckers popping up soon.

    I am now working on a business plan for a location that would serve as a 24/7 food truck destination with a variety of trucks always available. (Any investors listening? lol) We are also working with the downtown development groups, they want food trucks. I am telling you this food truck dog is about to get off the chain sooner rather than later.

    Thanks again everyone, I am loving all of this.
    Matt 🙂

  5. I also read some of the other comments and actually the pace moved rather quickly and I dont want to hear the competition argument. The very nature of business is that someone will find a cheaper way to do it and besides I dont hear anyone complaining about the unmanned Redbox movie rental devices sitting across the street from every closed Blockbuster rental in town. That machine took jobs and industry away from here for a 24 hour machine. Did they have to have a meeting at the Mayors office?

    I generated more sales tax revenue for the city, I created 2 jobs out of thin air and soon I will put another truck on the road and have the need for more employees. The brick and mortar competition argument is an easy one because:
    A) I don’t want to go where the food is, I want to go where the food ISN’T.
    B) Do you want my truck as competition 1 or 2 days a month or do you want me to open up a restaurant across the street and compete with me 24/7?
    C) Does everyone opening up a gas station across the street from another gas station have to get all this attention to do it?
    D) and finally IF my truck parked 5 miles down the road effects your business so badly then perhaps you need a concept review, staff performance evaluations and critical customer feedback to find out why they would rather eat out of the back of a truck.

    I am not trying to be argumentative or arrogant but I have been defending my “roach coach” for months and its kind of on auto pilot right now.

    It all worked out really well and everything moved smoothly and we are able to operate easily in the Louisville Metro area.

  6. Here’s my pet peeve that no one can get right.

    There is a department in Metro Government called The Department of Codes & Regulations, within that department are two major divisions, Inspections, Permits & Licenses (IPL) and Planning & Design Services (PDS). Under IPL there are divisions, in this case it’s the License & Permits Division. This division issues permits for Vendor’s Mobile and other wise, ABC Licenses, Taxi Cab, Taxi Cab Drivers and all the Adult Entertainment licenses, etc., This division is over seen by Glen Smith.

    The directer of Codes & Regulations is Jim Mims, that means he is director over IPL and PDS. There is no separate ABC division within IPL, they’re all the same people, in office and field inspectors.

  7. MetroHack: This is too complicated — IPL, PDS, ABC, whatever. What about DAD (“DumbassDept.” or PPG (“PisspoorGobmint”) or STFU Dept? Impossibility City = no question.

  8. Hell,

    If I knew you were up to blogging about ridiculous code regulations and suffocating municipal practices, I could keep you in great material for months.

  9. As a commercial contractor building buildings and paying for permits in Louisville/Jefferson County since 1983, a change occurred around the mid 90’s whereby one was forced to hire an Architect/Engineer to design the project to get it thru Planning/Design & Code Enforcement and, while praying, obtain a building permit.

    Prior to that, a good Contractor could submit Design/Build projects, work with Planning/Design/Code Enforcement and get a client’s project built, without weeks or months of whatever.

    Acura at Oxmoor is the last project I remember obtaining a permit for before “government reform” took over.

    I feel for the WorkerBees trying to get a Building Project thru the process now when the pressure to perform starts way before the shovel hits the ground.

    I wanted Hal Heiner to be Mayor but I’m pretty sure Mayor Fisher wants the best for all of us in “the field”.

    Please, cut the red tape and let Builders – Build.

    Acura at Oxmoor isn’t falling down or a community blight – right?

  10. For the maps of the property, I’d suggest the interactive maps and aerial photos at (LOuisville and Jefferson county Information Consortium). ‘Advanced Printing’ is supposed to print to a scale. ‘Never tried it though.

  11. Feel free to call or email me, and I can talk for hours about the battle I have endured trying to sell BBQ in Metro Louisville. I have been forced to go to Jeffersonville, IN and Taylorsville, KY to sell my product and now after 2 years of fighting, the city (with Mayor Fischer’s help) is starting to back off. We will see what the future holds. Keep fighting.

  12. Heaven forbid you have to obtain the property owner’s permission before operating a business in their parking lot. And as far as the drawing, it sounds like the City is making sure its roads won’t be blocked if a popular vendor does not have enough parking, and that it’s fire department has adequate access incase a truck catches fire.

    I haven’t been through the process, but I’m pretty sure I can prepare a site plan for a truck in a few hours, and maybe another 15 minutes for the owner to email/fax me a signed letter. I’m sure there is an application fee, but that applies to every other business.

    I doubt the Planning Division was trying to regulate the food or other areas covered by the Health Department … they’re just making sure your business doesn’t burn down when your neighbor rents out some spaces to a roach coach, or that access to your business (with limited parking) along Bardstown Road is not blocked when the world’s most delicious breakfast burrito is backing up traffic.

    Sounds like the mayor waved his political wand to make his department’s disappear on this one …… for his sake, I hope it doesn’t affect any of his other constituents’ businesses.

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