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Ocean City

For OC franchise, a few good ice cream men hard to find

(Feb. 13, 2015) The city is still looking for an ice cream man –not a taco man, nor a sandwich man or even a soda man.

The City Council on Tuesday moved to re-bid the resort’s food truck vending franchise, after getting only one response on an offer to replace the city’s last franchisee, whose business went into default.

But although City Manager David Recor offered the possibility, the council declined to explore the option of allowing more than just prepackaged goodies to be sold, closing the potential door to more elaborate food trucks that prepare or assemble food in the vehicle.

“It’s called the ice cream truck, always has been,” Mayor Rick Meehan said. “I think our expectation is that it’s packaged food . . . not a food truck.”

The city’s ordinance for the vehicle vending franchise, however, only specifies “prepared food,” a rather ambiguous term.

“To me, that could be a pit beef sandwich or anything else,” said Councilman Wayne Hartman, suggesting that the term “prepackaged” would better reflect the city’s intent.

Just as it does with beach equipment stands and taxi medallions, the town periodically auctions off a number of authorizations – in the case of mobile food vendors, just one – to conduct specified, restricted commercial ventures on public property. These are done under a contract period, which, in the case of the food truck franchisee, is four years.

The franchise gives the vendor rights to operate on any public street other than those east of Baltimore Avenue and south of 27th Street, in order to avoid complaints of unfair competition from Boardwalk snack vendors.

However, the city has had a rocky road in securing ice cream trucks.

In 2007, the contract was won by JSJ Ventures at a price of $101,500 per year. The company operated at that price for two years, before requesting the franchise fee to be cut to $80,000 due to poor profitability.

Two seasons after that, the contract was re-bid, and JSJ continued at a reduced price of $65,300. After two seasons of that contract, the company defaulted after running into trouble with the IRS.

The contract was then taken over by Popsy Pop LLC, at an annual cost of $71,200. After two seasons, Popsy Pop notified the city a few weeks ago that they would also be in default.

Only one offer – from Georgeo’s Water Ice of Selbyville – was submitted on the recent solicitation. The council voted this week not to open the bid, but rather re-bid and cast a wider net to find potential franchisees.

However, to address the issue Recor had brought up, the council also moved to include a further stipulation that the franchise be only for “prepackaged frozen treats.”

“There’s a lot of reasons for that,” Meehan said. “Most of the places these trucks go [in Ocean City] are residential neighborhoods. When you see food trucks in cities, they’re in business districts.

“With all the restaurants and other food service capabilities here in Ocean City . . . a food truck] would compete with those who have invested in brick-and-mortar businesses.”

 

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