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After a pandemic boom, lawmakers seek to regulate 'ghost kitchens' and food trailers

 Reef Technology has licensing deals with national restaurant chains such as Wendy's and TGI Fridays to cook and sell their menus from kitchen trailers in parking lots, such as these in Miami's Brickell neighborhood.
Tom Hudson
/
WLRN
Reef Technology has licensing deals with national restaurant chains such as Wendy's and TGI Fridays to cook and sell their menus from kitchen trailers in parking lots, such as these in Miami's Brickell neighborhood.

Republican State Rep. Juan Carlos Porras, the bill's sponsor, says he hopes the measure would make the process of opening a portable kitchen more accessible for business owners.

A bill moving through the Florida legislature could soon give the state power to regulate a restaurant model that grew in popularity during the pandemic.

House Bill 415 would give the state oversight of the licensing and permitting process of temporary commercial kitchens around the state — think ghost kitchens or kitchens in portable trailers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants, some entrepreneurs turned to this business model to provide takeout or delivery-only options by preparing meals in shared spaces or portable structures.

 A Reef Technology ghost kitchen for TGI Fridays sits in a parking lot in Miami's Brickell neighborhood.
Tom Hudson
/
WLRN News
A Reef Technology ghost kitchen for TGI Fridays sits in a parking lot in Miami's Brickell neighborhood.

"During the pandemic, we saw this huge increase of people ordering food from the comfort of their homes," said Republican State Rep. Juan Carlos Porras, who sponsored the bill. "And a lot of restaurants either started going out of business or just couldn't afford to expand in any way to meet the growing demand."

Under the measure, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation would be designated with setting the ground rules for temporary commercial kitchens, thereby preventing a municipality, county or other local government from requiring a license or registration other than what the state requires.
Porras, who represents District 119, which covers unincorporated parts of southwest Miami-Dade County, told WLRN he hopes that the bill would make the process more accessible for business owners.

"I think this will give an ability for the business community and a lot of people to try to test out new locations, either in my district or in other parts of Miami-Dade or in the county, without having to really spend a huge investment in a restaurant without knowing if it's going to work or not," Porras said.

When a traditional brick-and-mortar kitchen is not available, businesses can work out of these temporary kitchen in trailers, following natural disasters, so operations can continue.

"We had so many restaurants that suffered damages because of Hurricane Ian and many of the other storms that occurred in our state," he said.

"And I think if many of these restaurants had the ability to have a temporary commercial kitchen while they were still in renovation and repairing their restaurant, they'd be able to to recoup some of that revenue that they'd be losing."

Porras said the bill is expected to make its last committee stop this week.

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Alyssa Ramos