ZURIK: Restauranteurs hopeful New Orleans revisits decades-old French Quarter food cart ordinance
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Business owners are hopeful the New Orleans City Council will take a second look at a decades-old ordinance that has given Lucky Dog a food cart monopoly of sorts in the French Quarter.
Stacy Schexnayder has worked in restaurants all over New Orleans until four years ago when she opened up her own business, a restaurant on wheels.
“This is a kitchen. This is not just a meal on wheels or just a food truck,” Schexnayder said. “This is an actual restaurant.”
Schexnayder set up the food truck near the start of the Uptown parade route. She received a permit from the city that costs $500 for less than two weeks.
Chad Young opted for a smaller Mardi Gras business, push carts. His permit fee is $100 for 11 days.
Schexnayder and Young felt the permit fees were fair until Fox 8 informed them of what Lucky Dog pays for exclusive rights to sell food from carts on the sidewalks and streets of the French Quarter.
For 365 days, Lucky Dog pays $200 for each cart.
“Wow, for real?” Schexnayder asked.
“That seems kind of low,” Young added.
For 11 days of the Mardi Gras season, these two business owners paid a total of $600. During that same time period, Lucky Dog continued to operate on Bourbon Street’s busiest time of year with its annual $200 permit.
“It’s not a good deal for taxpayers,” Dillard University Public Policy Professor Robert Collins said. “It’s also not fair because there seems to be an extreme disparity in what the Lucky Dog folks have to pay, and what other types of street vendors for Mardi Gras parades or other special events that have to get permits from the city pay. There just seems to be a huge disparity in payment.”
A city ordinance from April of 1972 prevents all but one company from getting a permit to sell food on the sidewalks and street corners of the French Quarter. The ordinance says the only way to obtain a permit is to be a vendor that continuously operated the same business in the French Quarter for eight or more years prior to Jan. 1, 1972.
At that time, only one company qualified; Lucky Dog.
STARVING THE COMPETITION: Decades-old ordinance gives food cart monopoly in French Quarter
Collins says giving one company essentially a monopoly in the French Quarter is lucrative for that business, but that the city could be getting more than $200 per cart as they are now.
“I think if the city put it out to bid, it would be a very competitive process and you would have a lot of vendors that would be interested in getting the permits,” Collins said. “I promise you it would drive the permit price up much higher than it is now. Taxpayers certainly could be getting more money and should be getting more money based on the fact that the prices that all other vendors have been paying have been going up over the decades. For some reason, that $200 that Lucky Dog has been paying has not increased. It seems to be frozen in the 1970s.”
Back when the council passed the ordinance giving Lucky Dog exclusive rights, Richard Nixon was president, Moon Landrieu was Mayor and Collins was just wrapping up first grade.
“This has not changed since I was six years old,” Collins said. “It is really surprising that a member of the city council hasn’t taken a look at this. I mean, the leadership of that particular district of the French Quarter district of the city council has changed hands many times since then. It’s surprising that at some point in time, a member of the city council hasn’t taken a look at this and said ‘you know what? Maybe the taxpayers of the city should get a better deal on this.’ It’s just surprising that nobody has seen fit to investigate that grandfather clause.”
Schexnayder says her food truck isn’t allowed within several blocks of the Quarter, but is hopeful other businesses will soon be able to compete for the work.
“When do you open opportunities for other people that have started their new businesses as well?” she asked.
Lucky Dogs previously released a statement to FOX 8, which says, “In 1972, the New Orleans City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance addressing the expansion of street vendors in the French Quarter, in order to protect and preserve the area’s historic charm, character, and economic vitality. The United States Supreme Court unanimously upheld that ordinance in 1976. In its opinion, the Court noted that the Council reasonably decided that Lucky Dogs, and another longtime street vendor, had ‘become part of the distinctive character and charm that distinguishes the Vieux Carre.’
“The owners of Lucky Dogs were not involved in debating the 1972 ordinance, and our company was not a party to the litigation that followed. We love New Orleans and cherish the fact that locals and visitors alike love our products and consider our distinctive carts and vendors an integral part of the French Quarter’s unique charm.”
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