The Lowdown on the Lunch Box
June 1, 2010
It’s time for me to explain what’s going on with the Lunch Box. But first, let me say that I am in complete awe of the public support for our mobile restaurant concept. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
When we started Boxman Studios in 2009, the potential uses for recycled shipping containers were virtually limitless. Still are. From housing to office space to retail venues, and yes, even restaurants, we’ve effectively developed the means necessary to take rusting old shipping containers sitting around in industrial yards and make good use of them. It was, and still is, very exciting.
A year before Chris Zion and I started kicking around the idea of developing a mobile restaurant, the City of Charlotte passed a zoning change that limited the ability to operate mobile food units. I reviewed the additions to the body of the zoning texts, but did not review the changes to the definition – in a separate section. Oops. Confident that we were in compliance with zoning, I went right to the health department with our idea. And it passed. So earlier this year we decided to press on with our concept to offer gourmet fare prepared by a Cordon Beau trained chef using locally grown organic produce in various high-traffic locations around Uptown Charlotte during lunch. That’s when we asked Jim Mitchem (@smashadv) to create a social media campaign around our concept. We started participating in our community, ran a contest to name the restaurant and gained a lot of publicity for it. Some good. Some controversial. The controversial publicity was a wake up call on overlooking that pesky definition limiting our ability to operate because we were not a ‘licensed motorized vehicle.’ Please note that we are in agreement with all the restrictions and rules that were agreed upon in the past. Confident that our venue still qualified as a traditional ‘mobile food vendor,’ I took this up with the zoning department directly and petitioned them for temporary use permits to prove that we indeed were mobile, and in total compliance with all of the other regulations in the zoning code. So far all of these petitions have failed.
Again, this is my fault. We ran too quickly on this project and I should have sat down with the zoning department instead of relying solely on the text. It’s a very big book. And so for this, I sincerely apologize.
That said, I still believe that we qualify as a traditional mobile restaurant. The question is – will city council see us as mobile? It appears to me that the zoning department’s stumbling block is that we’re incapable of ‘true mobility.’ We are. We own a Sterling 7500 that transports all of our venues. Yet, as I understand it, if we leave the restaurant on the back our truck instead of placing down onto the ground, we could have been serving the community months ago. But, because we off-load it, albeit only for a few hours, the current definition of a mobile food unit means that we fail to meet compliance.
I contend that mobile is mobile no matter the manner under which the unit is transported. I also believe that our restaurant concept is beneficial to the people who work in Uptown and possibly business parks who currently do not have easy access to healthy, (delicious) organic food. Most of all, I believe that I owe it to you, the community that has embraced us to this point, to take this matter as far as possible. That’s why I will continue to petition the zoning department on behalf of the Lunch Box.
Here’s what happens now. On Monday, June 21st we have a hearing with the Charlotte City Council at their monthly meeting. The public is invited to attend and can ask questions or remark on our specific petition. And while I’m not asking you to step up to the plate for us at this meeting, I have to admit, I’d love to continue to have your support. (the meeting starts at 6:00 p.m.)
The City Council will then vote on our petition on July 19, at which point we’ll learn the fate of the Lunch Box as a daily restaurant option for Charlotte. We’re still hopeful. But even if we lose this fight, there are a number of festivals and catering events where we are allowed to operate. And I expect that we’ll be ready to do so in the coming weeks.
Again, I apologize for not getting this issue squared earlier. Thank you so much for all of your support to this point.
David Campbell, owner Boxman Studios
Please feel free to contact me directly any time