Unhappy about what they consider unfair competition from food trucks, the owners of Elvira's Deli & Pizza have launched a petition calling for those vendors to be banned from its beachfront neighborhood.
The petition argues the food trucks are having a "significant negative impact" on the Hillspoint Road store and that Elvira's cannot compete with their prices because it is a "mom-and-pop" establishment with higher overhead costs that also pays taxes.
"Their fees are very minimal to the town, so if I'm going to compete with somebody like that, they should be paying the same amount of money as I am or they should be restricted from my area," Elvira's co-owner Niki Boulas said.
Boulas said the vendors have emerged as a frequent presence on neighborhood streets, such as Hillspoint and Burnham Hill, since Hurricane Sandy last year. With a number of storm-ravaged houses under repair or being rebuilt, the influx of workers appears to have attracted the food trucks to serve them.
The vendors mainly operate during breakfast and lunchtime weekdays, according to Boulas.
"I've lost that customer base that these trucks are attracting, which are my customers as well," Boulas added.
She emailed the Selectman's Office twice in February about the prevalence of food trucks. Pat Scully, manager of the office, replied Feb. 28 with an email outlining regulations. All food trucks need a health permit and vendors parked on town property also require a vendor's permit. The latter permit costs $10, plus $25 for each vehicle used.
The town does not have the authority to ban food trucks on private property, Scully added in her e-mail.
Frustrated with the town's response, the Elvira's owners launched the petition April 12 to push for town action. So far, more than 200 people have signed the petition.
The number of signatories points to Elvira's position as a favorite informal eating establishment in town. Opened in 1997, the approximately 1,000-square-foot deli at 222 Hillspoint Road is yards from Old Mill Beach and across the street from the Italian restaurant Positano's. Its clientele includes many young families, who frequently pack the deli's outdoor tables during the spring and summer.
Boulas owns the deli with her parents, Nick and Stacey Yiovanakos. Elvira's is named after Stacey Yiovanakos' late sister.
Elvira's predicament appears to be partly attributable to regulatory ambiguity. Vendors are not allowed to compete directly with any established retail operations in town. Ice cream vendors, for instance, may not operate in "main business areas" or in "close proximity to outlying stores" that sell ice cream. But town officials have not ruled yet on the legality of food trucks operating near Elvira's.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff told the Westport News Tuesday that he has asked Assistant Town Attorney Gail Kelly to review food-vendor regulations and policies, and recommend possible revisions. Existing vendor policies were approved by the Board of Selectmen and drafted mainly to deal with the sale of ice cream, according to Joseloff.
"Clearly their intent was to protect Westport retail establishments," he said. "Unfortunately, references are made in several places -- the mobile vendor applications and the permit itself, for example -- which are either vague or inconsistent."
Joseloff added that he will confer with Police Chief Dale Call about "enforcement issues."
"Considering that this appears to be a new concern in Westport, I would imagine that the town would want to begin putting into place guidelines and regulations that protect existing businesses while providing the opportunity for new businesses," she said. "Elvira's is a staple in our community. We need to find a way to create a more harmonious business environment while serving our community."
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