Mark Shirley has always loved to cook. In 2019, he decided to leave his lucrative job at an auto dealership and embark on a new venture as the owner of Ole Time Smokehouse, one of only a few food trucks in Farmville, North Carolina. But in April 2021, Farmville’s Board of Commissioners adopted new food truck restrictions and permit fees that are so severe and expensive, it seems they were tailor-made to run Mark out of town. He’s since moved his business while he fights in court for his right to earn an honest living.
Mark Shirley was making a good living as the general manager of an auto dealership in Eastern North Carolina, but even his comfortable salary couldn’t feed his lifelong passion for cooking. So, in September 2019, after a year of exhaustive research into the restaurant industry, Mark left his profitable job to launch a food truck business called Ole Time Smokehouse.
Though he’s open just four days a week and only for lunch, Mark’s Eastern North Carolina-style barbeque quickly earned him a loyal following in Farmville and surrounding towns. The delicious Southern fare has grown so popular, Mark also caters evening and weekend church events, weddings, and family reunions. And when COVID-19 orders forced brick-and-mortar restaurants to close or severely curtail their service, hungry folks could still count on Mark and Ole Time Smokehouse for their BBQ fix.
Since then, however, changes to Farmville’s food truck laws have unlawfully pushed Mark out of town.
In April 2021, Farmville’s Board of Commissioners raised food truck permit fees from $100 per year to $75 per day. The board also increased the distance food trucks must keep from brick-and-mortar restaurants. The prior restriction of 100 feet from a restaurant’s entrance changed to 100 feet from a restaurant’s property line.
These new restrictions put the private downtown parking space Mark leased for the past two years too close to a nearby restaurant—which does not operate under a comparable rule—and would cost him $7,800 annually in permit fees to operate twice a week, a 7,700% increase from last year. He therefore moved his truck just outside of Farmville.
Some loyal patrons followed him to his new location, but he wants to return to the downtown area free of these unfair and unlawful government burdens.
Represented by Pacific Legal Foundation, Mark is fighting back in state court to vindicate his fundamental right to earn a living free of irrational government interference and to protect the rights of future entrepreneurs who, like him, want to make their community a better place. Billy Strickland II, of Strickland Agner Pittman in Goldsboro, serves as local counsel.