The Daily Reflector: Fighting Farmville The Right Thing

The Daily Reflector: Fighting Farmville The Right Thing

By Mark Shirley

The restaurant business is hard work. Long hours, tight profit margins, fierce competition – given the challenges, it’s not surprising that 60 percent of new restaurants fail in their first year.

I was prepared for all of those challenges and more when I launched my barbecue business, Ole Time Smokehouse, on a food truck in Farmville in 2019. What I didn’t anticipate was the city council passing an ordinance aimed at putting me out of business. Here’s what I’m fighting for.

First, my experience: In 2019, I quit my job as a car dealership manager to pursue my dream of owning a restaurant. I knew it was a big risk, but I had always loved cooking and decided it was an opportunity worth taking.

Based on my research of the industry, I decided to start with a food truck. Investing my small savings in a mobile option would allow me to test the waters, hone my business skills, and develop a customer base without the full capital investment of a traditional restaurant. Later, if the business was successful, I might consider expanding to a traditional restaurant.

Things started out very well. I rented a parking space on a private property in the city center and served lunch to an increasing number of local worshipers who liked my barbecue. Limiting service to lunch hours allowed me to dedicate nights and weekends to catering parties and special events. Things got tough when the COVID-19 lockdowns hit in 2020, just a few months after my launch, but the ability to comply with compliance orders kept me afloat.

Then, in April 2021, the Farmville Board of Commissioners increased permit fees for food trucks from $ 100 per year to $ 75 per day, among other restrictions. Suddenly, operating my truck just two days a week, the maximum allowed under the new ordinance, would cost $ 7,800 per year, a devastating amount of money for a small business, especially one just starting out. Under the new rule, I could no longer operate my food truck in the private parking space I rented without asking my competitor’s written permission across the street. To protect myself and my business, I moved my truck outside of city limits until we could resolve the issue.

I was surprised that Farmville passed an ordinance aimed at eliminating a small food truck. Maybe they just don’t like barbecue, food trucks, or me personally. But neither of those are good reasons to abuse the policy process to intimidate small entrepreneurs. After all, I had done everything I was supposed to do, and the city’s new restrictions just didn’t seem right or fair to me.

Concerned about this arbitrary and unfair ordinance, I connected with the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization that works with small business owners and others to combat government abuse. They are representing me as we defy the city ordinance in court.

It’s honestly not something I want to do as litigation is time consuming and stressful. Frankly, I prefer to focus on making the best barbecue, serving my loyal customers, and building my business for the future. But when you see that something is wrong, you must be prepared to stand up for yourself and others.

We want to send a message that small businesses are the backbone of the local economy and city officials should encourage, not punish, entrepreneurship.

This opinion piece was originally published by The daily reflector on December 31, 2021.

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