Frisco town code sends BBQ dreams up in smoke
August 5, 2017
Staking six figures and his golden years on a dream of serving up savory, slow-smoked barbecue, Monte McClenahan knew he led too much with his heart as he prepared his brand new, custom-built 38-foot trailer to be hauled off Frisco's Main Street last month and put into storage.
"Am I a fool?" the 66-year-old bail bondsman asked a friend who had just arrived on scene July 13 with a two-axle pickup truck to help move the massive trailer beside the laundry mat at 406 Main St. "I feel like it sometimes," he said.
"Oh, I dunno," McClenahan's friend replied. "You built an ark. You're just a long ways from the water."
Impressive as it is, McClenahan's trailer ran head-on into strict enforcement of a town code that forbids anything like it from operating inside Frisco.
With his application for a mobile food vendor's permit denied and the window on an appeal he was never going to file anyway closed, McClenahan is moving on.
Per town rules, there is no place for him in Frisco, where ironically enough, the biggest event of the year revolves around a barbecue cook-off.
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The whole experience has left a bad taste in McClenahan's mouth. Still, while any hopes he had of smoking meat for his hometown crowd are charred to a crisp, his desire to sink his teeth into Texas-style barbecue business continues to burn.
One fine trailer
When McClenahan first got the keys to the barbecue trailer, he thought the biggest problem he was going to have was remembering what key went to which lock because there were just so many.
"One-hundred forty-five thousand dollars," McClenahan whispered to answer a question about how much he paid for it.
"And I got it discounted," he added with a smile.
The trailer was custom built by a company outside the Kansas City area as a spec unit. McClenahan began negotiations to buy it in December, they reached a deal and the company delivered the massive meat wagon at the end of March.
Inside, the 38-foot, triple-axle trailer is wall-to-wall stainless steel. It has a small bathroom, plenty of hideaway storage space, counter tops, a full-size fridge and freezer, large sinks, a big grill, and a deep-fat fryer for fries and onion rings.
It also has an oven and a warming oven, and two large serving windows. There's a compartment that opens on the outside to reveal a flat-screen TV, which could be used to display the menu, watch the game or for simple entertainment.
The trailer itself weighs 21,000 pounds empty, but the best part of the tour is undoubtedly the slow smoker that occupies the back fourth of the rig.
"This will hold 540 pounds of brisket, ribs, chicken, sausage, pulled pork, whatever," McClenahan beamed as he opened the door to show off his smoker's automatic exhaust system. "And it's even got a rotisserie on it."
During the tour, McClenahan couldn't help but break down, and he fought back tears as he pulled out a stack of postcards.
He was so excited to get his new business going that he had already produced promotional materials, but he now knows he put the barbecue before the cart.
"I thought I'd be in business by now," he said. "Look here, I had 3,000 postcards printed up, and they said: 'Look for our brand new BBQ trailer at Antlers near Walmart in Frisco coming May 2017.'"
McClenahan had to run over each postcard with a marker, blacking out the date and location. When he thinks about where he is today, his excitement to get going is replaced by a deep sadness.
"It's been smoked in less than a dozen times and the biggest smoke was on the June 16 and 17 dates," McClenahan continued, pausing again to choke back the tears. "So that's where the magic happens."
Location, location, frustration
Finding a place to park such a massive trailer, especially in Frisco where space comes at a premium, could warrant any number of descriptions; easy wouldn't be one of them.
The biggest issues McClenahan had landing a spot came in finding agreeable property owners — preferably with hookups to utilities — and a provision of town code limiting the number of mobile food vendors to one per block on Main Street.
Tracing his steps, McClenahan bounced off more than a half-dozen possible locations before ultimately filing his application for a mobile food vendor's permit on June 6, listing the vacant lot at the corner of Granite Street and Summit Boulevard as his desired location.
That would change, however, and on June 19 an email from local business owner Craig Peterson to town staff references McClenahan's desire to switch from the lot by Antlers to the parking lot at the laundry mat and dog wash on Main Street, which Peterson owns.
"It seemed so ideal," McClenahan said of the Main Street property, adding that Peterson had all the hookups — water, sewer and electric — with the added bonus of internet for a credit card reader. Peterson even restriped his parking lot specifically for the trailer at the expense of parking spaces when he recently resealed the blacktop.
It seemed perfect, but the plan to get McClenahan's trailer permitted for Peterson's property seems like a bit of a shell game A popcorn stand was already operating outside the laundry mat as a mobile food vendor, which based on town code, would prevent any other mobile food vendors from selling on the same block.
However, that plan had hope based on a response to the June 19 email that came a day later, in which town staff seemed agreeable to shifting the popcorn's mobile vendor's permit to an outdoor-commercial establishment permit.
They said, "based on the information provided," as long as the popcorn vendor remained in the same location without moving, "they are not falling under the definition of a mobile vendor."
The email continues: "If the popcorn vendor has plans to move their structure throughout the summer to sell at other locations, they shall be called a mobile vendor."
With the popcorn vendor set firmly in its location through the summer season and a couple jack stands immobilizing its wheels, McClenahan and Peterson both interpreted this to mean McClenahan's trailer could take over the existing mobile food vendor's permit and work out of the laundry mat's parking lot, which McClenahan hoped to do four to six days a week while picking up occasionally for special events.
Also included with the application for a permit was a diagram of McClenahan's trailer. It didn't list the specs or measurements, but the 3-D rendering shows the interior in detail and provides a good idea of McClenahan's proposed operation.
No way around it
The location may have felt perfect, but in a decision dated July 11, town officials denied McClenahan's permit application on three fronts: the number of vendors per block, potential impacts on a nearby residence and a rule that limits mobile food vendors' carts to no more than 100 square feet in size.
The first two line items blocked McClenahan from moving into Peterson's parking lot, but the 100-square-foot limitation on size effectively squashed any plans he had of setting up anywhere in Frisco.
McClenahan said he wonders if there wasn't an undercurrent at town hall that pulled his plan under, claiming the town's position, in which officials seemed helpful and agreeable until they weren't, changed almost over night, even after he had went through fire department and health inspections.
While Joyce Allgaier, Frisco's director of community development, acknowledged a "miscommunication" on the town's part regarding the permits, she said she had no knowledge of any outside influence or complaints against McClenahan's trailer before his appication for a permit was denied and she believed town officials were simply enforcing the code as uniformly as they could.
McClenahan admitted he was aware of the size limitation that crushed his plan, but he didn't think it would be an issue when it came to getting the permit.
"You know, I did read the town code before, but it didn't pop out at me," he said. "I guess it didn't pop out at me because I said, 'It's really not a problem.'"
Town officials also determined the trailer could pose issues for the people living in a second-floor apartment in the building just feet away from where McClenahan hoped to park.
"I was really worried that … we're going to have this trailer that's going to be spewing smoke and odor — or fragrances, if you're a barbecue-lover — and right above are these open decks for residential units," Allgaier said. "To me, that's just not compatible. I wouldn't want to be the owner of a Main Street property with a penthouse on top and having somebody cooking food right below me at all hours of the night or day."
McClenahan's application for a permit lists the anticipated business hours of 11 a.m. until "the meat is sold out, which could be as early as 2 or 3 p.m."
In reference to the town email that seemed agreeable to shifting the popcorn vendor's permit to an outdoor-commercial establishment, Allgaier chalked it up to "incorrect information" that she said the town was provided, calling it an "unfortunate miscommunication" and apologizing.
McClenahan could have appealed the town's decision to deny him a permit. However, because it could have cost him over $1,000 and had little hope of success, he expressed no intention of doing so as he was moving the trailer.
The window closed on the appeals process July 25, and town officials confirmed that no appeal was ever submitted.
The flip side
It might not be much consolation at this point for the bail bondsman who so badly wants to barbecue, but Allgaier said that because of what happened with his situation, the town is now looking to update its rules regulating mobile food vendors.
"These regulations need to be tweaked pretty severely," she admitted. "Actually, this experience helped us see — and we've seen it before; we've kind of just lived with it — that these regulations need to be fine-tuned."
She was largely talking about some of the distinctions that led to the misunderstanding about the permits, and it's unlikely the code would be rewritten to allow McClenahan's trailer to operate here, being that it's so far over the 100-square-foot size limitation. Still, Allgaier framed it as a learning experience that brought attention to how town code might be improved.
For McClenahan, he's still looking for a place to park his beloved barbecue wagon and get it smoking. His first choice is clearly out, but McClenahan remains hopeful he will find a good spot to do business in a nearby town.
Having gone too far and invested too much to quit now, McClenahan said he's committed to seeing this through. In fact, his tears from the July 13 move had all but dried Saturday, as he spent much of the day in Frisco selling barbecue. It was a far cry from where he wanted to be at this point, but the owners of Outer Range Brewery have been looking to add food options to their menu, and getting creative, they have started inviting some local foodies to work out of a pop-up tent in front of the brewery.
For McClenahan, feeding the brewery's customers presented a great opportunity, and he was there with his barbecue, smiling and still excited.
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