Street vendors coming to downtown Minneapolis?


Street food, served up from food carts or food trucks, was on the agenda at a packed public hearing of Minneapolis’s Regulatory Services and Public Works Committee on March 22. After hearing testimony pro and con, the committee voted to forward to the City Council, without recommendation, an amended ordinance that would allow 25 street food vendors to set up their businesses in downtown Minneapolis. In the next two weeks, city staff will make changes to the proposed amendment related to issues brought up at the public hearing. 

At Monday’s hearing, a standing room only Council Chambers was filled with potential street vendors, established downtown business owners, and lots of people who came to say they wanted more street vendors in Minneapolis. While almost everyone said they were in favor of passing the proposed amended ordinance, a number of stakeholders said they wanted more time to iron out the details. Some of the established business owners were understandably concerned about the competition that the street vendors posed, and a number of the potential vendors said the proposed ordinance was too restrictive.

City Councilmember Lisa Goodman spearheaded the amendments to ordinance 188, which would make it easier for street food vendors to set up shop. Doug Kress, Lisa Goodman’s assistant, said that the amendments to the ordinance would provide energy and vitality to the downtown area.

Goodman’s proposed amendments would allow 25 currently licensed food vendors to sell food in motorized vehicles for a fee of $483 dollars annually with an additional $391 for startup costs. Applications would be approved on a first-come, first-served basis. Some discussion at the meeting involved whether a business owner had to already own a restaurant or bar to become a street vendor. The currently proposed wording says that while a business owner could have any type of food service license, they would need to do all preparing and storing of food in a commercially licensed kitchen. That stipulation would cut out smaller businesses that don’t have an established brick and mortar business.

Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, co-owners of Chef Shack are in India right now exploring new recipes to bring back for their traveling business, but their friend Miki Carlson brought a message from them that they oppose the stipulation that only brick and mortar businesses would be allowed to obtain a permit.

Erica Straight, from Foxy Falafel, which currently vends at local farmers markets, said the new ordinance was a great opportunity. She said having street vendors would enliven the culture of the city.

Jason Atkins, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represents small businesses, said that street vending offers a unique opportunity for people with lower incomes, particularly immigrants. “The government should get out of the way for those people,” Atkins said. His opposition to the proposed ordinance include removing the barriers to entry, such as only allowing current licensed owners to participate, and requiring consent from the adjacent property owner.

Tim Mahoney, from the Warehouse District Business Association and owner of Loon Café said that the business association was not against having street vendors, but that they wanted more time to offer input into the ordinance. He said some restaurants have invested a great deal in anticipation of the new Twins stadium, which offers a glimmer of hope. “We want to benefit everyone,” said Mahoney, “especially those of us that have been here a long time.”

Brian McKenzie, another business owner, said he’s had his business in the downtown area for 16 years. He wondered what would stop corporate chains such as Domino’s or McDonald’s from having food trucks and taking up all the local business. “We don’t need more fast food here,” he said.

Similarly, Corey Sax from Pizza Luce said: “We’ve been waiting for the Twins stadium. We’ve grown our business to support that. What happens if Domino’s or Subway comes in here and locks us out?” He hoped that the Council would put together a task force in order to discuss these types of issues.

David Cabinet owns a building on Hennepin Avenue. While he said he loves food carts, he’s a concerned property owner. He said there were many vacancies in the area, and adding food carts would add competition to potential tenants.

Cynthia Curtis, from Hell’s Kitchen, said she would love to have a mobile cart for her business, but she only heard about the opportunity nine days ago. “We need 30 days,” she said.

The issue of noise pollution was also raised. Since the food trucks wouldn’t be able to use city energy, they would need to have generators, which can be very loud. Some city council members wanted the city staff to address whether recycling could be encouraged for potential businesses.

The city council will vote on the ordinance on Friday April 2. If it passes, it will take effect May 1.