The Gibraltar Town Board approved an ordinance Jan. 10 on a 4-0 vote to prohibit food trucks in the town, which includes Fish Creek. Board member Brian Hackbarth abstained from the vote, citing conflict of interest due to his employment in the local restaurant industry.
“To ease some people’s minds I’m going to abstain from this conversation since I work in Sister Bay for people that own restaurants,” said Hackbarth. His employer, Wild Tomato, also has a location in the Town of Gibraltar. He cited a legal opinion that informed his decision to abstain.
Board members cited economic and health concerns in their deliberations. A food truck operator competes with local restaurants, but does not pay property taxes that brick and mortar restaurants do. Those taxes help fund infrastructure such as roads, sidewalks and services.
Hackbarth did not participate in the conversation at the Jan. 10 meeting when the town adopted the ordinance but indicated his opposition to food trucks at prior meetings.
“A lot of people want us to just allow the food truck but they’re thinking it’s going to stop at one or two,” Hackbarth said at the Jan. 3 town board meeting. “But they’re not understanding there are going to be 10 or 12 of them parked downtown next summer.”
In a follow-up interview Hackbarth said the number of food trucks he stated was “random” and “arbitrary” but, “I do have pretty good knowledge that people have purchased or are attempting or working on purchasing food trucks.”
Hackbarth expressed health concerns as well, referencing the 1971 “Poison in Paradise” article in the Milwaukee Journal that detailed contaminated water tests in Door County that impacted the tourism economy.
“All of the sudden we have some food trucks make some people sick… and Door County is on the Milwaukee Journal cover page,” Hackbarth said.
But food truck operators are required to register with the state and detail methods for safe food storage and preparation. They are also subject to inspections from the health department.
Hackbarth and Dick Skare, town board chair and owner of The Cookery, were criticized in September when the town attempted to shut down a food truck located at White Cottage Red Door. Both said they had no conflict of interest because their concern had more to do with a disagreement with the county about zoning permits.
Board member Steve Sohns defended Skare at the time, stating during public comment that the move had nothing to do with Skare being a restaurant owner.
But at the Jan. 3 meeting when the town board discussed the ordinance, Sohns said the new business model should have restaurant owners worried, explaining his visit to a food truck at Dovetail Trading in Liberty Grove.
“It was out of this world,” Sohns said of the Italian beef sandwich he ordered. “I’m like ‘Wow!’ I can see how a restaurant should be up in arms over stuff like this.”
Hackbarth was quick to clarify Sohns’ statement.
“It’s not about that,” Hackbarth said. “It’s not good for economic health for our community. Where are the jobs? Who is going to pay property taxes to pay the bills? When you phrase it like that it ends up in the newspaper a different way.”
The adopted ordinance specifically exempts goods that are part of Gibraltar’s farmers markets.
“We’re talking about cooking on site, preparing on site,” said board member Barb McKesson. “It should just be vegetables and what you find at a farmers market, not food for sale.”
Violation of the ordinance comes with a fine between $100 and $500 for each day a food truck is in operation. The town constable has the authority to shut a food truck down on sight.