Food-truck bureaucracy could put the brakes on rolling kitchens

Jill Warner and Erick Roorda thought times were tough when they opened Mod Livin' a decade ago on a then-rough part of East Colfax Avenue. But in some ways, 2010 was even tougher. The couple partnered with Dylan Moore, the restaurateur behind Deluxe and Delite, to create Deluxe Burger in a side of the Mod Livin' building, wrestling with all the city regulations regarding restaurants. But once they got it open, the burger joint did so well that they soon partnered up again on the Little Orange Rocket, which was in the vanguard of the gourmet food trucks that descended on Denver last year.

The partners used the Deluxe Burger kitchen as a commissary for the Little Orange Rocket — which inspired complaints from neighbors that the truck was blocking the alley off Colfax ("Alley Oops," October 21, 2010). Just one roadblock to that complaint: The alley is one of several hundred in the city that is private, and is actually considered a private drive — with that portion belonging to the Mod Livin' building. Warner and Roorda went to mediation with their neighbors. And they thought they had a deal — until Warner heard that some neighbors were considering a class-action suit.

When the controversy on Colfax first flared, their Park Hill home — where they parked the Little Orange Rocket at night, to calm Colfax neighbors' concerns — offered some respite. But no more. "We got cited by the city," Warner reports. "You can't park in a private driveway in a residential area."

Now they need to find a place to park the Little Orange Rocket for the winter. That nice, private drive outside Mod Livin' has to look pretty tempting.

Next stop: Jill Warner was among the who's who of entrepreneurs who packed Room 391 of the Denver City and County Building on January 26. The room was so packed you would have thought the Denver City Council committee was holding a hearing on medical marijuana. But no, this session was devoted to a discussion of a draft Food Truck Guide — which put all the old rules and regulations affecting mobile food vendors in a new format. The document was supposed to clear up confusion regarding the operation of food trucks in this city, pulling together regulations from the five agencies through which most truck operators must travel before they can take to the road. But after ninety minutes of discussion, it was clear that nothing had been cleared up. "This is extremely confusing," concluded Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz. "If you're trying to do this to clarify things, good luck."

The committee's short-term solution? Set up a task force to clean up the document, and suggest some fixes for the contradictions and obsolete regulations. "When you're done with marijuana, you might want a cupcake," committee co-chair Michael Hancock suggested to Charlie Brown, who had to helm another discussion of the city's Medical Marijuana Code, specifically as it affected growhouses, on January 31. (Watch for a report on that meeting at Instead, Councilwoman Carla Madison got the job.

She's already met with several truck owners and talked about the easy fixes. For example, the group will probably want to pluck out the antiquated provision that requires trucks to park 200 feet from each other, a regulation that would have prohibited the Justice League of Food vendor gatherings — if anyone had been paying attention.

Other changes will take more discussion, and over the next few months, Madison and her task force will mull over all the possibilities. "At least by spring, we should be able to get an ordinance," she says optimistically.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.