- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2016

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) - Jason Reuter has a winning concept: Take the shrimp he catches in the Gulf of Mexico, drive his boat right up to a dock on Offatts Bayou and cook them, fresh off the boat, at his food truck on 61st Street.

He opened his truck, Darlene’s Shrimp Shack, on Memorial Day weekend, and so far, business has been good.

“A lot of these big corporations, they sell mostly farm-raised shrimp,” he said “I can give them the freshest and the cheapest.”

The Galveston County Daily News (https://bit.ly/29TK8sg ) reports about a year ago, businesses like Reuter’s were a fearsome prospect to some operators of brick-and-mortar establishments who worried about being swamped by low-overhead competitors.

On the other hand, fans had hoped a rethinking of Galveston’s official attitude and a rewriting of its rules would inspire the kind of explosion of food-truck dining that has occurred in many other cities.

But almost a year after the Galveston City Council passed new rules and loosened restrictions on where food trucks and other temporary concessions can operate, no flood has rushed to the island.

Since the law passed on July 25, 2015, the planning department has issued only 15 temporary concession permits.

That list includes four businesses operating at Saengerfest Park on The Strand in downtown Galveston, which were there before the new rules took effect. Four of the trucks are shaved-ice vendors, and one is affiliated with Shrimp ‘N Stuff, the landmark Galveston restaurant that had been operating a food truck in Jamaica Beach before the new rules.

One of the trucks, Tiki Taco on the Go, opened in March and was closed by July.

The count doesn’t include some food trucks, including the ones on Seawall Boulevard at 53rd Street. Those businesses do not receive permission from the city to operate, but rather lease their spaces from the Galveston Park Board of Trustees.

Reuter, who also owns the bait shop his trailer is parked next to, is one of the few people who have pursued the Austin-like food truck ideal, a new eatery offering quick, local cuisine.

He hopes the truck-borne operation evolves into a full-fledged restaurant within three years.

“This is a starter,” he said. “This is a beginning of something big. But you have to put it out there first.”

The new rules still set limits on where food trucks can operate. They must be on a private lot, not the city right-of-way, and their cuisine or goods can’t be too similar to offerings at brick-and-mortar restaurants within 75 feet of the truck.

Previously, food trucks could only operate on private property along 61st Street and Seawall Boulevard.

When the rules passed in a 5-2 vote, then-District 3 Councilman Ralph McMorris said he feared there would be a rush of low-quality food trucks to the island. That rush hasn’t happened. Whether the city’s rules have prevented that or whether operators have been wary is unclear.

Galveston councilwoman Terrilyn Tarlton Shannon said she knew of two people who were seeking insurance for new food trucks and expected more to come in the future.

“I think word has to get out first, then people will start coming to Galveston,” Shannon said. “I think the existing food trucks are doing extremely well with their businesses.”

Shannon was one of the council members to support the new rules. She said, right now, she did not foresee the council reconsidering rules to be more attractive to new food trucks.

For their part, owners of existing food trucks said they weren’t asking for the city to change its rules again.

“The city’s been great,” said Jeff Moses, owner of Luck Star Shaved Ice, which operates out of Saengerfest Park.

Reuter said he’d been experiencing some frustration with the city rules. He had to pay a $500 fee to operate his truck on his own property, for one thing.

“They made me run a background check on myself,” he said.

Jennifer Perez, owner of Jenny from the Block, a Puerto Rican-themed food truck on 61st Street, said Galveston’s rules made it difficult for there to be food truck festivals or street parties like the ones in Texas City and League City.

“We’re not able to do that here in Galveston, because there’s so many little fine-line things that you have to pay attention to,” Perez said.

Those little things include restrictions on how much seating a truck can provide and requirements to provide some landscaping at their locations.

She wasn’t complaining though. Perez’s food truck, and her efforts to open it, were among the motivating factors behind the city’s new rules. She said she had no intention of going back in front of the city council.

“It’s just little things that would need to be fixed to make it better,” she said.

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Information from: The Galveston County Daily News, https://www.galvnews.com

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