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Jul 6, 2012 12:32 PM

Food Truck Laws

i agree with you. Portland's food truck/stand scene blew me away. is it the city laws that make it hard to replicate here in seattle?

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  1. That may be part of it, as I understand it, although a year ago the City passed regulations that permits trucks to vend from public streets, with some restrictions. Formerly, it was limited to private property.

    About SEA, this article explains: "More restrictive are the city’s requirements that carts return to a commissary kitchen every day, prohibit them from remaining overnight, and prevent them from being near other food businesses. Portland’s rules say nothing on any of these subjects."

    The article goes on to explain the paltry number of permits that have been issued by SEA since the new laws last year, and the tendency of some mobile food businesses to stick to suburban areas, possibly to avoid the red tape associated with the city.

    There have been other reports that the Wash. Restaurant Association is a heavy lobby that has spawned a captive state-level advisory board that has raised additional regulatory obstacles to the type of food that can be permissably prepared or sold on the street.

    14 Replies
    1. re: equinoise

      The situation here is actually a lot better than some places--they say in Manhattan it's virtually impossible to launch a truck, with all of the rules NYC has. And I just read here on CH that Montreal is only now doing an experiment, letting a very few trucks operate, to see how it goes. Usually it IS the restaurant lobby behind the restrictions.

      The recent Saveur article made me want to try Portland's carts again; I go to Portland for work and haven't liked a single thing I've had from the downtown food carts. But it sounds like the pods out in the neighborhoods might have the real goods.

      Another vote for Matt's--the oyster po'boy and shrimp and grits. I also like El Camion (multiple locations).

      1. re: christy319

        Re: Manhattan - you can't walk 2 steps without tripping over a halal truck or taco truck there. I wonder if a lot of these folks got in before new regulations got in place? They certainly seem to have a much healthier food truck market than we ever will.

        1. re: christy319

          All those rules Manhattan has allow the patron to see which vendors pay good attention to sound food handling processes and which don't. Consumers get to choose with the lights on.

        2. re: equinoise

          What's even worse is that if you want to do business in King county, the commissary must be located there (the reverse is not true), and you're not actually allowed to do any real cooking or food prep on the truck itself -- and there are few if any commissary kitchens available for rent in King County and no resources to help you find them. All veg prep has to be done in the commissary. All proteins over one inch thick have to be cooked in the commissary. The truck can only be used for holding or re-heating unless you limit yourself to typical truck foods.

          I've been trying to launch a truck for two years now but after reading the King Co Health Codes, I've given up. I simply can't do the type of food I want.

          1. re: acgold7

            that's horrible. my buddy runs a food truck in orange county and i think its a great way to expand the palette of Seattle's general food scene with new and inventive and specialized dishes and cuisines. with rent so high especially on the Eastside, you're stuck with a lot of franchisees and resources spent on rent and location then instead of food.

            1. re: shaolinLFE

              Ugh. Tell me about it. Sheesh. With the economy picking up, Landlords are holding prospective tenants over a barrel.

              1. re: acgold7

                Agreed that the requirements in Seattle are better than other places. It's hard too to compare Seattle to Portland, where in Portland the health laws are so lax that people can cook out of their own homes. Hopefully as food trucks get more and more respected in this community, the laws will get better. If you all want to follow my commentary on issues such as this, I have started a blog about food trucks in Seattle and I very much welcome dialogue. Please check it out at

                In regards to the best food trucks in Seattle, the Seattle Met magazine recently ran a feature on food trucks and they have a good list of the top food trucks in Seattle. My votes are for Where Ya At Matt, Big Food, and Off the Rez. The Box over on the east side is also tasty. The Seattle Met article can be found here:

                1. re: mgant17

                  If by "better" you mean "completely ridiculous and meant to stifle innovation and creativity and the ability to serve decent food," then yes, we agree....

                  1. re: acgold7

                    Yes, this makes me sad to hear you are not going forward with launching a food truck due to the restrictive nature of the health department regulations. I am writing a post about this subject in my blog and would welcome more of your thoughts; blog should be posted within the hour.

                    1. re: mgant17

                      We actually still hope to launch the truck at some point, but we must launch an actual restaurant first, as commissary space has been impossible to find. Just will take a little longer. And a lot more funds.

                      1. re: acgold7

                        Putting on my sleazy lawyer hat here.

                        What about food fairs like Bite of Seattle? What are the logistics/legalities involved in putting up something like that? If the requirements for putting on a food fair / festival is less stringent than a food truck - what if, say, you put up a one-vendor food fair...?

                        This is a topic I have much interest in.

                        1. re: HungWeiLo

                          As I recall -- don't quote me on this -- the regs are different but no less stringent in their own way. I'm not opposed to public safety but some of this stuff is just nuts.

                          Some time when you have a month to kill, head over to the King Co Health Dept website and go through the million or so contradictory PDFs they have for download with all the regs.... you'll go blind and crazy at the same time.

                          1. re: acgold7

                            ac-i know i am asking you for info you probably spent lots of your own time to uncover but can you tell me if the food needing to be cooked in a commissary applies to the option of raw or frozen items cooked in a fryer aboard the truck? is that possible? thanks very much.

                            1. re: bighound

                              The prohibition is against proteins over one inch thick, so I think anything you can do in a deep fryer should be okay. Certainly many people have and use deep fryers and do frozen fries and the like aboard trucks with no problem, to my knowledge.

                              Fried items really have to be done to order and couldn't possibly be pre-done in a commissary, could they? They make special fryers for mobile units, I think, with special safety clamp-down covers which you secure while in motion.