In a blog post posted Friday, the company—which operates on a lot owned by John David Carson of Carson Properties—said the food truck park, located at 312 E. Hopkins St., San Marcos, would be no more after the departure of the last food truck, Wanderlust, which plans to move to Austin in December.
Home to more than 20 vendors over The Hitch's six years in operation, the food truck court included St. Pita's, Big Kahuna, Bobby Hotdogs, Cafe Azteca, Oh My Pizza Pie, Patty Wagon, Say cheese, Smokin' Aces, How Sweet It Is, MamboFreeze and Mr. Bigotes. The Hitch also hosted or sponsored community events such as MR Fest, Sights and Sounds, Summer in the Park and Relay for Life.
According to the post, vendors either permanently closed or chose to relocate outside San Marcos over the last few months.
"While there is a unique set of factors for each circumstance, a common thread has been uncertainty regarding their ability to continue to obtain a permit to operate from the city’s Health Department," Carson wrote in the post.
He said since March, a new health department staff has implemented more strict regulations for vendors to obtain or renew their annual Mobile Food Establishment permits and is "insisting on requirements that food trailers do not find feasible."
He told Community Impact Newspaper food truck vendors were given conflicting information when applying for and trying to renew food permits.
"Staff is choosing to take a more strict interpretation of the [Texas Food Establishment Rules]," he said, referring to the state's health code. "I think its really unfair that the city has allowed a few staff members to kind of—without going to council, without having any public engagement of the vendors of the park owners— enforce these changes."
Jeff Caldwell, director of neighborhood services for the city, oversees the departments of environmental health and code compliance. He started his new role March 27.
"I don't think the staff has anything to do with what's happening at The Hitch overall," he said in a phone interview Thursday. This year, he said a new chief sanitarian and a new inspector have started on the health department staff.
Carson received permission from City Council in 2011 to lease his property to food truck vendors that were fixed in one spot, under requirements that conflict with TFER.
The TFER has stricter requirements for mobile food vendors on items such as water and wastewater holding tanks, restrooms, potable water sources, the use of dumpsters and being stationary rather than reporting to a "central preparation facility" daily for supplies as well as for cleaning and servicing operations.
Caldwell said the city has been enforcing the 2006 TFER even though an updated version was approved in October 2015.
"There's not a sense of urgency, but there is a sense of timeliness in that this has been going on [since] 2015," Caldwell said. "This should've been done a long time ago, and we need to move in that direction. The new staff is saying, 'Why are we still working on [the 2006 TFER] rules?'"
He said staff began contacting businesses that were not complying with the 2006 TFIR and letting them know that starting in October 2018, they would be inspecting based on the 2015 TFIR.
"We knew we had a lot of food vendors, particularly mobile vendors, that wouldn't meet the 2015 health code," he said.
While enforcing the TFER is ongoing, he said he is planning to hold stakeholder meetings in December and January to discuss a permanent solution that would allow operations such as The Hitch—and the mobile food vendors within it—to exist.
"We are not going after people with a vengeance to shut them down," Caldwell said.
Carson called for the city to put in place a specific ordinance related to the allowance of food trucks in San Marcos.
"They need to have an ordinance that specifically outlines what the requirements are so that there's not this wishy-washiness," he said.
For now, Carson is leasing the spaces on the property to downtown employees. He said he is not sure what's next for the property.
He said he would be happy to attend the stakeholder meetings scheduled for December and January.
"I think it's critical that the people they really reach out to [are] current or past food vendors that have tried to get permitted," he said.
The San Marcos Farmers' Market will continue to be held on the property every Tuesday from 3-6 p.m.
Carson said he thought the food trailer culture has been a good addition to San Marcos.
"I think it's a real shame if we continue to lose that," he said.
St. Pita's, which served Greek food such as gyros, relocated to Middleton Brewing Co. in Wimberley last week to be closer to the food truck's mothership restaurant, The Leaning Pear.
Owner Matthew Buchanan said in an email it was a bittersweet move "but one that will allow us to be more engaged with our staff and guests ... many of whom reside in Wimberley."
The Big Kahuna moved to 5000 Burnet Road, Austin.
Dreamland and Patty Wagon moved to the Junction Drinkery and Eatery in Wimberley.
Wanderlust will move to Zilker Food Park in Austin in January.
Smoked Out Barbecue closed permanently, according to an Oct. 31 announcement on The Hitch's Facebook page.
El Sabor de Mi Tierra closed permanently in October.