McAllen approves ordinance to allow restaurants on wheels

City commissioners have given the green light for a pilot program with mobile vendors to begin.

Only a dozen permits will be issued starting on Monday as the health department monitors public safety.

But for Alberto Gulino, a 3rd generation Italian chef, the opportunity is a dream come true.

Alberto knows pizza.

He uses fresh ingredients and a wood burning brick oven to satisfy taste buds at farmers markets and through his catering with Nino's Rio Pizza.

He's always wanted a restaurant of his own.

But fear and finances have stood in his way.

That won't be the case with a mobile food cart.

"It won't be expensive, he said. "I won't have that much overhead and so that will allow me to do that without as much risk as doing brick and mortar."

Mobile food vendors will soon line the streets of McAllen.

Permits used to be only issued for prepackaged food sales on carts.

But the city's new pilot program will allow Alberto to bring his passion for pizza on the road.

"This will be a great way to just start introducing to people, Italian street food," he said.

But the city's ordinance change is not without controversy.

Most cities in the Valley have a ban on mobile food vendors.

Some went into effect after numerous Action 4 News Food 4 Thought investigations revealed many mobile vendors went unchecked after initial inspections.

Many were found with gross unsanitary conditions and no hot water for proper sanitation.

Josh Ramirez, McAllen's director of environmental & health, says strict rules and regulations will keep the public safe.

He says mobile vendors will be required to have a base of operations, like a restaurant, where waste-water can be properly disposed of, the cart sanitized and additional equipment stored.

Menus will also be limited, according to Josh.

"They have very limited spaces in the kitchen areas, so we have to be realistic about what their capabilities are to be able to provide a good, quality product to our citizens," he explained.

Josh says the city recently added new kitchen cops to enforce rules.

He adds how his department operates 24/7, including weekends, a key safeguard most other city and county health departments lack.

"Food vendors not following the rules can be fined or shutdown just like any other business," he said.

Alberto's ready to follow the rules.

"Cooking is my passion."

He's ready to fulfill a dream.

A final version of the new ordinance has not yet been released to the public.

But other rules will exclude vendors from operating in residential areas.

They will also be limited on the amount of time on certain streets and won't be able to operate within 100 feet of an open restaurant.

The initial permit fee is $150.

City commissioners will be review the pilot program in about 3 to 6 months, decide on any changes to the rules, before allowing additional permits to be issued, according to Josh.

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