Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Mobile food trailer ban on hold; family businesses await decision

Photo by Susan Adcock for the Hispanic Nashville Notebook

The Metro City Council deferred the second reading of a bill to ban mobile food trailers, as reported in this article of the Nashville City Paper and this report by WTVF NewsChannel 5, and family-operated vendors who comply with the current rules wait to see if a change is still on the way.

"Jerry Rowland, director of Food Protection Services at Metro Health, said a compromise 'sounds good to us' and said Metro still prefers educating, rather than regulating, kitchen owners."

Rowland said that mobile food vendors had not taken advantage of free classes, sometimes offered in Spanish, that would better educate the vendors of the relevant regulations.

"[Bill sponsor Amanda] McClendon said she would likely support a compromise but said she wants trailers to work on a level playing field with restaurants situated in buildings, which she said must meet additional requirements such as Americans with Disabilities Act provisions."

In this Tennessean article, McClendon and co-sponsor Buck Dozier said that local health, fire, and codes agencies were offering to improve the way they work with the vendors.

An editorial in last week's Nashville Scene echoed popular sentiment that an all-out ban was overkill.

In an interview with the Hispanic Nashville Notebook, vendor Roberto Lopez of Tacos y Mariscos Lopez # 2 on Murfreesboro Road said that his customers, who are primarily but not exclusively Hispanic, universally tell him how good his food is, and that he's never had a customer get sick. He has had some bad health scores, but he says that normally his scores are in the low 90's. The Metro web site shows his last score at 95. Any deficiencies pointed out by inspectors are mostly little details, he says, but he corrects all of them.

Mr. Lopez gave the example that, one day, he was washing the pavement with a hose and some detergent, and an inspector said he couldn't wash the pavement that way without a drain. Mr. Lopez stopped, which is how he treats every issue that is pointed out to him. He said that in the past, inspections had occurred about once every six months, but a few months ago, inspectors came by four to six times in one month. Tacos y Mariscos Lopez # 2 passed all the inspections. Since he complies with the regulations, Mr. Lopez said that he has no reason to complain about them.

Photo by Susan Adcock for the Hispanic Nashville Notebook

Roberto Lopez is the second of many brothers. The first Lopez brother came to Nashville seven years ago and is a legal resident. Roberto came three years ago. Four of the brothers - Rafael, Roberto, Ignacio, and Felipe - own five taco stands in Nashville. Their stands in Nashville are Tacos y Mariscos Lopez #1 on Nolensville Road; #2 on Murfreesboro Road, #3 Gallatin, #5 Franklin, and #6 Nolensville. They all do well, but #1 is the most successful. They also have cousins who run a couple of other stands in Nashville - Eduardo Cervantes runs El Tapatio Mobile Unite at 4801 Nolensville Rd, and his brother Reymundo Cervantes runs Tacqueria Alteno, near Bell Road. Roberto has other brothers, a wife and daughter, and he preferred not to discuss them in this interview, but it became clear that whatever the Council does to vendors, this family is going to feel it.

Photo by Susan Adcock for the Hispanic Nashville Notebook

Tacos y Mariscos Lopez # 2 is open 365 days/year, from 9am to around midnight. Roberto and his brothers enjoy their work, having sold tacos in Mexico before coming to the U.S. Roberto is almost always around, and when it's real busy, he works on the chicken on the grill. He rents the adjacent building, an old dry cleaners, and the goal is to build his own building, bringing the kitchen inside and offering better service. He says he is all for competition, because competitors make you work even harder.

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