When Jada Smith and her husband bought a food truck, she thought she could roam around Middle Georgia and dole out delectable dishes wherever and whenever she wanted.
She soon found out that thanks to Georgia law, it’s not quite that simple.
To operate that way, a food truck has to have a separate stationary commissary, which comes with some strict health department requirements that generally make it cost prohibitive for most food truck operators. Without a commissary, a food truck can only operate at special events — and must get a separate permit for each event.
That’s how Smith has operated her Sofrito Fusion food truck since she started in March of last year. She is a regular at the Museum of Aviation’s Food Truck Friday and goes to many other events.
But now she has a commissary and will soon begin operating the way she originally wanted.
Her commissary is a tiny pink building in the parking lot of International Square Shopping Center on Watson Boulevard. The building was previously a drive-thru coffee shop.
“This has been a long road, but it feels good to finally be here,” she said. “We were just growing and growing and we had to wait to be able to open at different events.”
Starting about the end of July, she expects to operate the truck at the commissary location on Tuesday and Wednesday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The food will be stored at the commissary, with cooking done on the truck.
The rest of the week she will continue working special events and wherever else she wants, with the property owner’s permission, of course. Her plan is to operate Tuesday through Saturday. Those who want to find out where she will be on a given day can follow her on Facebook.
“We are the first really full-time food truck in Warner Robins,” she said.
With her new permit she will no longer have to get a permit for every event that she works.
Sharon Pettit, environmental health deputy manager for the Houston County Health Department, said there is one other truck with a full-time permit, but that truck sells only ice cones. She said Sofrito is the only truck with a full-time permit selling food.
Pettit said she believes more food trucks would operate full time if it wasn’t for the commissary requirement. Among the regulations that make a commissary costly to set up are that it must have a three-station sink and an indirect sewer connection. Even with modifications, a commissary cannot be a home kitchen.
Nancy Nydam, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Public Health, gave several reasons why a commissary is required. Those are to verify that water is from an approved source, that sewage disposal is done properly, that any preparation and storage that cannot be done safely on the truck is done at the commissary, and that utensils and equipment are properly washed and sanitized.
She also said that in the event of a food-borne outbreak of illness, it ensures there is a location that can be found to trace the source.
Smith’s husband is from Venezuela, and she described her truck as fusion of South American and American food. Specialties include various types of empanadas, a fried plantain sandwich, a bacon-wrapped hotdog, and a bacon cheeseburger.
Smith bought her truck for $5,000 but it took a lot of work to get it ready. She said it has turned out to be a good investment.
“It really took off more than I could ever have imagined,” she said.
Food truck events in Middle Georgia have drawn thousands, and food trucks have become increasingly popular across the nation.
“There is less overhead with a food truck and you can try new things,” she said. “You can constantly change your menu and reinvent yourself.”