When Big Truck Tacos saw one of its two trucks shut down last month at an outdoor food market in MidTown, it was just the first of three visits in 24 hours by health inspectors.
Such frequency is nothing new to Cally Johnson, who as co-owner of Big Truck Tacos, has seen firsthand how much more scrutiny is given mobile food operations compared to established restaurants.
Indeed, records show the Oklahoma City-County Health Department conducts “sweeps” of food trucks twice a year while no such efforts are staged against the city's various restaurant corridors. Such scrutiny is now being challenged by operators who say the odds are stacked against them by city and state statutes.
“We run our trucks all the time, every week, and if we were not doing it right, we would not have any business,” Johnson said. “People would put it on Facebook, on Twitter, because that's how we roll. I don't even know any rationale for this attention.”
Health department officials respond the laws might not be perfect, but they were written with the idea that food trucks inherently pose more of a risk than established restaurants. They also note Oklahoma City contracts with the agency to inspect food trucks anytime they appear at a special event — which was the case when the H&8th outdoor market was raided Aug. 26.
Phil Maytubby, public health protection chief for the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, said Big Truck Tacos and two other vendors were subjected to a surprise inspection because H&8th was deemed a special event.
Big Truck Tacos had both of its trucks inspected the next day because one was shut down for having the wrong permit at H&8th, and inspectors did not know which truck had returned to service.
“When you're looking through these records, you'll see some that have been inspected 15 times — because they're involved in a special event,” Maytubby said.
Mike Bailey, chief inspector at the health department, said the trucks are seen as a higher risk because they have small kitchens and they don't have the same resources as restaurants to maintain clean operations. He admits, however, that the agency doesn't receive many complaints from the public about food trucks.
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Another H&8TH set for Friday
A combined effort by Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. and Oklahoma City officials to work through issues behind the closure of H&8th is being credited with easing the way for a restaging of the event at 8 p.m. Friday.
The H&8th market was promoted and hosted by owners of Elemental Coffee at 815 N Hudson as a means to encourage community connections and continue development of the MidTown neighborhood on the west fringe of downtown.
Bob Tener, director of Oklahoma City's development services division, said Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. has a revocable permit set for city council approval on Tuesday. Vendors, meanwhile, are being advised on how to navigate through various city and state requirements to ensure they won't face the same closures they did in August.