Food Truck Owners in Virginia Beach Mobilize to Drop Background Check Requirements

By Michael Klazema on 3/30/2018

The rising popularity of food trucks across the United States has led to an increase in the availability of unique, convenient dining options, but it has also brought its fair share of legal clashes. In the city of Virginia Beach, a rush to regulate the city's booming food truck industry led to confusion and frustration as owners and employees face restrictions they deem onerous. Chief among these complaints is the city's requirement that all food truck owners and employees must pass a background check or be denied the opportunity to work within city limits.

In the city's push to create regulations governing food trucks, these mobile restaurants initially received classification as "peddlers" under the law, a category which also governs ice cream trucks. Since ice cream truck operators typically serve in family neighborhoods, they have always been subject to rules requiring them to pass a criminal background check to ensure they can work safely around families. Disqualifying offenses include felony convictions, fraud-related offenses, and violent crime.

Virginia Beach already forbids food trucks from operating within residential areas. Therefore, food truck owners argue, they face an unfair burden which limits their ability to hire employees to work in an environment no different than a freestanding restaurant. In addition, not only are food truck operators required to conduct background checks on their potential employees, but they must also pass a check of their own to receive a license. 

A food truck business owner must prove a clean criminal record to open their doors in the first place — a restriction no regular restaurant operator in Virginia Beach faces. Ordering a background check on yourself in such a situation is easy with, as is checking on the criminal records of applicants. Food truck operators, in conjunction with a member of the Virginia Beach city council, have pushed for reclassification and ultimately the abandonment of such requirements.

Led by Councilwoman Jessica Abbott, the food truck community is seeking recognition as an equal player in the food service industry with an end to what they deem to be anti-competitive measures. This includes not only elimination of the background check requirement but also adjusting licensing fees: currently these fees are much higher than they are for typical restaurants. The council will also consider rescinding several other restrictions. 

The city council is now in the process of drafting a new resolution on the subject using a committee drawn from city government and the food service community. The stated goal of the council is to create a new classification for food trucks with rules and regulations that make sense for that industry. The ordinance is currently on track to face a vote by the full city council before the end of May.

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