The Common Law: Starting My Food Trailer

Getting your food trailer business rolling

I've got a great idea for a food trailer, but I don't know where to start to get the idea off the ground. What type of permits do I need? What are the restrictions on where I can put the food trailer?

Austin has seen an explosion in the number of food trailers in recent years. More than 1,600 mobile food permits are expected in Austin by the end of 2011 (up from 648 mobile food vendor permits in 2006), helping Austin keep pace with cities on the East and West coasts that are experiencing the same curbside culinary trend.

Assuming you have your concept and food trailer, the first step is to apply for and obtain a license from the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. The health department classifies food trailers into two categories: restricted and unrestricted. Restricted mobile food vending units sell only prepared and prepackaged food (think ice cream truck) and are not required to have any water or waste systems. Unrestricted mobile food vending units prepare food in the unit, including all prep work and actual cooking. Unrestricted mobile food vending units must have approved water sources and water disposal systems.

Regarding where to locate your food trailer, your starting point should be to review the city of Austin's Mobile Food Establishment Ordinance, the intent of which is to regulate mobile food establishments (most often food trailers). The ordinance sets out all types of rules and regulations regarding where and when you can operate your food trailer, including things like zoning, setback from surrounding homes and businesses, as well as hours of operation.

For example, food trailers are allowed in commercial zones and industrial zones, but their use is typically prohibited in most residential areas. If you have your eye on a certain property as the home base location for your food trailer, visit the following city of Austin zoning website to be sure the zoning allows for food trailers: For additional information regarding zoning information, please call the Development Assistance Center at 974-6370.

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Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP,

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or

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