By Sriya Reddy
With about 40 different vendors, the Sunny South Dallas Food Park is ready for its first 2023 date, March 26 at Fair Park.
Along with supporting Black and brown businesses and economic development, the food park also guides vendors through the city process of food permitting.
Dee Powell, the founder of Do Right By the Streets, an urban planning organization, said the purpose of Sunny South Dallas Food Park is to support Black businesses and create Black community spaces in the southern sector. The first food park, formerly called the MLK Food Park, was in April 2021. It has since moved from a parking lot on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to a space at Fair Park.
The food park goes out of its way to ease small businesses into the food permitting arena by hosting information sessions, breaking down the process on social media and assisting with the costs.
“We know a lot of our vendors are still working a full-time job or they might be parents,” Powell said. “This process is easier because we walk them through every single thing we’re doing with the city, step by step of what we submitted. People received it really well.”
This year, the food park will have five dates — March 26, April 16, May 21, June 18 and July 30.
For its second date, April 16, Sunny South Dallas vendor applications will close on March 13. The May 21 food park application, the third event, opens April 1 and closes April 10.
Abraham Bernal, a registered sanitarian supervisor with the city of Dallas, hosted an info session with Sunny South Dallas Food Park at the end of January. About 30 people participated in the info session asking questions about fee amounts and paperwork. Bernal said participants left feeling less frustrated about working with the city.
The food park has a mix of vendors with permanent and temporary food permits. Permanent food permits have more requirements than temporary ones, which are typically used for weekend events or festivals. Powell said it’s important to consider permitting because it ensures food safety, which is especially a concern in a post-pandemic world, and shows that the business is taken seriously.
“Coming out in the midst of the pandemic, food safety was important, but it was heightened in that time frame because not only are we outside, but people can get sick and they can die if food is not handled properly and things aren’t done correctly,” Powell said. “And I think it really shows a testament to your business that you take it seriously and that you’ve gone through the process. It comes with a cost and has its setbacks, but it allows you to move within the city without worrying about being shut down.”
Last year, the city of Dallas changed its requirement for food permits, allowing more food vendors to maintain their business. These changes include allowing food trailers outside of events, expanded menu options to include cooking seafood and raw meat on board and reducing costs.
Temporary food permits in Dallas cost $217 for the application plus another $28 per day of the event, which comes to a total of $245 for a one-day event like the food park. Sunny South Dallas, who gets temporary permits from the city on behalf of vendors, charges vendors a $150 fee. The park uses that money to pay for the permit and covers the remaining $95 out of pocket.
Annual permits have a $481 application fee, $562 for the plan review and a $185 permit fee, totaling $1,228 up front. Every year after, vendors are charged the $185 permit fee.
“If you go to the annual route up front, there’s more time involved,” Bernal said. “There’s more costs, there’s more paperwork. Then once you get through that on the backside, year-to-year that permit is valid. One of the perks is you can do routine vending, but also you can participate in special events without having to pull a temporary health permit each time. the annual permit allows you to do that.”
For vendors who are not from Dallas and want to come in for a few festivals or fairs, Bernal said a temporary permit could be the better option.
Chunda “Sunshine” Owens, who started Forney-based food truck Sunshine Wings and Catfish in 2021, went to the info session and will be a vendor in the food park on March 26. Owens said a barrier to getting food permits in Dallas is the cost.
“I think for the most part for a new food vendor like myself, you’re funding everything yourself and, your first year to maybe your third year, everything is done based on your personal credit,” Owens said.
Smooth permitting process
Bernal said food businesses need to have a clear plan to make the permitting process in Dallas go smoothly. He said the first thing to start with is the menu, which dictates what kind of permit a business owner might need.
“What is it that you’re looking to serve? And the reason I say that is that under our current mobile code, the venue kind of guides you and tells you which type of permits you’re eligible for,” Bernal said. “And then from there, you would know what kind of unit you would need and what the requirements are for that particular unit.”
Food trucks or trailers that serve hot food, or raw meat, like chicken wings or burgers, would have different requirements and structures than one that serves cold food like frozen yogurt or Italian ice.
Bernal said that after the menu, business owners should look at their budget and be flexible.
“When things get tough, you might have to alter your plans a bit,” Bernal said. “Or things look great on paper, but then you submit your plan, something’s not up to code, or you run out of space on the unit and you got to cut some stuff off your menu. Be willing to adapt or bend around to beat codes and be compliant, and it may be things that might not be perfectly ideal. But it can get you off the ground and up and running at least.”
Another point Bernal said that new food business owners should look out for when buying used trucks or trailers is whether or not units follow code.
“Someone’s always trying to sell you their loss,” he said. “They’re trying to sell you their money pit, if you’re not careful. So I always recommend that if you got somebody that’s looking to sell a unit, you know, these are familiar with the city guidelines. They’re available on our website, for them a copy of it, or ask to see if they have a copy of the blueprints and the designs from when they first got the truck. That way you can look at what’s on board.”
For Owens, who just started her food truck business, breaking down the process makes running her food truck easier.
“They make it very accommodating for you, like the funding in Dallas and process,” Owens said. “Just have to give the things that you need to Dee, and then we’ll have the permit. Once you get the thumbs up, you just come out and do your thing.”
This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas- at the bottom.