ERWIN, TN — Lewis Carsten admits business was initially a little sporadic at the eatery he and his wife, Pat, opened in Erwin a little more than four months ago.
But Carsten said the reputation of Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ has spread, and he is now having difficulty keeping up with the demand for the smoked chicken, Boston butts, beef brisket and baby back ribs he prepares from the mobile food cart.
“Most days we sell out,” he said. “Here in the last month or so, we pretty much sell out every day.”
However, Carsten said he now as a bigger problem than having enough food to satiate the hunger of his expanding clientele. Last week, Carsten and his wife received a letter from the town of Erwin notifying them their mobile food unit does not comply with the town’s zoning regulations.
According to the letter from Erwin Code Enforcement Official Michael Borders, which Carsten said he received this past Thursday, the mobile foot unit is not “expressly permitted” in the town’s B-2 arterial business district.
The letter states those in violation of this zoning ordinance could face fines of not less than $2 and no more than $50 for each day the violation continues. The letter also states in any case in which a building or structure is erected, constructed, reconstructed, repaired, converted or maintained in violation of the ordinance, the “building inspector or any other appropriate authority or any adjacent neighboring property owner who would be damaged by such violation, in addition to other remedies may institute injunction, mandamus or other appropriate action in proceeding to prevent the occupancy of such building.”
In the letter, Carsten was given 30 days from its issuance to comply with the town’s zoning regulations.
Carsten said the letter came as a surprise to him, as he and his wife had done their due diligence before opening the stand. Carsten, who has been barbecuing for around 50 years, said after he and Pat decided to purchase and renovate the food cart, the Lamar community residents acquired licenses and permits from Washington County. After opting to set up shop in Erwin, the couple checked with officials in the Unicoi County Courthouse and Erwin Town Hall and were advised these permits and licenses would be honored in Unicoi County, Carsten said.
“We went to everybody,” Carsten said. “We crossed our t’s. We dotted our i’s.”
The Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ food stand opened for business on June 9, locating in front of a vacant building on North Main Avenue.
Borders said Monday that the town’s zoning ordinance, which has been on the books since 1971, does not specifically state that mobile food units are permissible within the zoning district in which Hillbilly Butts and Brisket BBQ is located.
Per the town’s zoning ordinance, businesses and facilities permitted within the B-2 business district include hotels and motels, auto and mobile home sales, restaurants, offices, funeral homes, lodges and clubs, places of amusement and assembly, and public and semi-public buildings and uses.
“There’s lots of different uses that can fall under there but, unfortunately, a mobile food unit we cannot see fitting under any of these permitted uses,” Borders said.
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