A Moveable Feast Food Truck
Much has been said and written about food trucks recently, and it has many people wondering what’s going on. Here’s a rundown of recent events related to food trucks in Grand Rapids:
• December 2015: The Grand Rapids City Commission approves the GR Forward plan, a 10-year strategic roadmap for continuing to develop our city; it includes expanding the presence of food trucks.
• January 2016: The Grand Rapids Food Truck Association is formed, with promoting and advocating for the food truck culture in GR as one of its primary functions.
• February 2016: Newly-elected Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss includes expanding the food truck scene as one of her top priorities in her State of the City Address.
• July 12, 2016: A food truck ordinance proposal is presented to the City Commission that includes, among other things, the ability for food trucks to park on public streets, parks, and other public places. They set a public hearing – as required by law – for Tuesday, July 26th.
Now that you’re up to speed, you might be asking what this means for you. The short answer is more delicious, creative food choices in locations near you! Great news, right?!?
It is great news, but it’s also not a done deal. The City Commission public hearing scheduled for this Tuesday, July 26th, is crucially important to the future of food trucks in Grand Rapids. This is an opportunity for members of the public to voice their support or opposition to the ordinance to the City Commission. Following the public hearing, the City Commission will make any necessary adjustments to the ordinance based on feedback and suggestions they receive, and they are scheduled to vote on a finalized ordinance at the end of August.
If you oppose food trucks and wish they would go away, I’ll let you off the hook and tell you that you can stop reading now if you want to save yourself some time. But if you love food trucks and want to see more of them in our city, there’s a role for you to play here.
The last time a food truck ordinance was proposed in 2012, the small minority who opposed it was very vocal in their opposition and the City Commission heard them loud and clear. The result was food truck regulations that basically prevented food trucks from operating except at special events. This time, we need to make sure that people who love food trucks and want more of them are the loudest voice in the room. There are two ways you can help:
• Attend the City Commission meeting on Tuesday, July 26th, at City Hall (9th floor) and voice your support for food trucks. You don’t need to be an accomplished public speaker – just tell the city commission that you support food trucks and want to see more of them in Grand Rapids
• Contact Mayor Bliss and your city commissioners (list and contact information at http://grcity.us/city-manager/pages/elected-officials.aspx) and tell them you support food trucks and want to see more of them in Grand Rapids. You can do this by phone, email, or postal mail.
There are, however, a few changes to the ordinance that the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association would like to see.
First, the proposed ordinance prohibits food trucks from operating within a certain distance of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. None of our association members have any interest in parking in front of a restaurant. In fact, the Code of Conduct that all of our members agree to before they can join the association states that we will not operate in any location that interferes with or impedes the operation of another business.
But we do not feel that it is the proper role of government to promote the interests of one business over another, and the proximity restriction included in the proposed ordinance is there for exactly that reason: to “protect” the restaurants from the food trucks. There’s no problem with two restaurants being right next to each other, or two food trucks being right next to each other. So why can’t restaurants and food trucks coexist? And what if the food truck(s) frequent a location where there is no restaurant, and then one opens. Is that spot that we have been using now off limits?
The second change that the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association would advocate relates to the hours when food trucks can operate. The proposed ordinance limits our hours of operation downtown to 6am-12am, with a shorter window in neighborhoods. We agree that restricting hours of operation is a valid course of action, but would like to see the end time a little bit later in the downtown area. There are many restaurants and bars that have expressed interest in having food trucks outside when their kitchens close so that their patrons can continue to have access to food while enjoying beverages. Additionally, food carts are permitted to operate until 2am; we would advocate for food trucks to be granted the same freedom.
There have been many studies on the effect of food trucks on a downtown area, and the effects are positive. More foot traffic equals a more vibrant space, it increases the customer base for existing businesses, and it creates a destination for residents and visitors alike. Let’s help move GR forward and create a fun, vibrant food truck scene that we can all be proud of. Free the food trucks!
If you have questions about food trucks, the proposed ordinance, or how you can get involved, contact the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook (Grand Rapids Food Truck Association), or on Twitter (@grfoodtrucks, #grfoodtrucks).
Brennan Summers is the owner of A Moveable Feast Food Truck and the President of the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association.