ELDON, Mo. - Nearly seven months after Jennifer Neal of Andy's Hickory Pit Bar-B-Que asked the Eldon Board of Aldermen for a way to move her family's business back to Eldon, the board has revised its ordinance regarding mobile food vendors.
By a unanimous vote April 8, the board revised the city's municipal code, and replaced a December 2012 ordinance that was designed to protect permanent, established businesses from competition with temporary vendors that had been coming into town to sell food or other products from mobile vehicles. The 2012 ordinance was also intended to address concerns as to whether those vendors were meeting health regulations and paying city sales taxes.
Problems with the 2012 ordinance began to arise in September when Neal informed the Board of Aldermen that her family wanted to move Andy's Hickory Pit, then operating in Osage Beach, back to its original Eldon location. However, the business's kitchen-equipped trailer, while they intended to keep it stationary, qualified as a mobile vehicle under the ordinance's wording. The board voted in October not to change the ordinance for fear of "opening the floodgates" for the city's previous problem, boxing out Andy's Hickory Pit.
"Everybody wanted us back in Eldon, and we weren't able to. So we had to shut down completely," Neal said.
When Lori Bartlett informed the council in February that she had been denied a business license renewal for her family's novelty ice cream truck, Brain Freeze Ice Cream, it became apparent the situation with Andy's Hickory Pit might not be an isolated issue.
A month later, the new ordinance allows for mobile vendors to operate within city limits by meeting certain requirements.
"The only thing that's changed is the food-preparation part," said Eldon Mayor Ron Bly. "Whatever facility that they serve and sell out of, the food has to be cooked and prepared in that facility."
This makes room for Andy's Hickory Pit, whose trailer has already passed a Miller County health inspection and now just needs to pass a city inspection. Assuming Neal and her family can regain their previous lease, they plan to reopen in the parking lot of Walmart in Eldon.
"It really doesn't change anything for us. We'll be running just the same," Neal said. "We're glad to be back."
The new ordinance also allows for pre-packaged food items to be sold as long as the proper health, business license and sales-tax requirements are met, clearing the way once again for Brain Freeze Ice Cream.
"We don't have to do anything different than we did before," Bartlett said. "We do some of our biggest sales in Eldon. It's because we live here and people know us. If we would have lost the town of Eldon, it really would have hurt our revenue for the summer."
While concern over protecting established businesses kept the Board of Aldermen from revising the ordinance in October, Alderman Kim Knopf believes that wasn't an issue in this case.
"I fought to bring the bill back and have the attorney take a look at it," Knopf said. "In order to add protection to some businesses, that turned around and created problems for other businesses that already had licenses in Eldon ... I'm pro-business, and I don't want to exclude people because of small differences. These people have an overhead the same as everyone else and an investment in their business, and they have a right to have free enterprise."
Bartlett, too, thinks the change is a good one for the city.
"I think the aldermen who were initially concerned that changing an ordinance for only one or two businesses was bad policy eventually came around to seeing that the ordinance they had was just poorly written and not enough thought was put into who it would affect," Bartlett said. "With this revised ordinance, it ends up helping several mobile businesses wanting the option to operate here, and it also helps the city enforce its standards more clearly and constitutionally. It's a win-win."