Dec. 08–MANKATO — Talk to the people attending the “Mankato Food Truck Ordinance Open House” Thursday night, and it’s clear they’d rather be talking about sauces than setbacks, about hot beef commercials than hours of operation, about casseroles than fire codes.
But with the arrival of the food truck craze to the Mankato area, the rules needed to be laid down and the city’s Community Development Department is close to finalizing the regulations. Thursday night was the opportunity for the public to ask questions and offer opinions.
In reality, the meeting at the Intergovernmental Center attracted almost exclusively “mobile food cart vendors” — as they’re known in the proposed ordinance. And they appeared to be generally satisfied with the regulations limiting where, when and how the trucks can do business.
“I think the rules are reasonable, and I think we should have some type of guidelines to follow,” said Greg Traylor of Mankato.
Before he talked about the ordinance, though, Traylor wanted to talk about his white barbecue sauce — looking to get a bit of advance publicity for the new food truck business he’s shooting to have in operation by April when the Food Truck Hub opens in Old Town for its first full season.
“It’s something exciting, something I’m looking forward to being a part of,” said Traylor, who has talked to Food Truck Hub developer Dain Fisher. “… They said they’re missing barbecue here in Mankato.”
Fisher’s plan to bring multiple trucks to his Old Town lot on Riverfront Drive during warm-weather days prompted the city to look at a comprehensive ordinance governing the rolling eateries long-popular in larger cities. Currently, the city’s rules govern only the location and hours of food trucks operating on public spaces, such as streets and municipal parking lots.
The new ordinance, which is expected to go before the City Council in February or March, sets rules for private property such as Fisher’s Food Truck Hub and other lots around the city. Modeled on ordinances in other Minnesota cities, the proposed rules welcome the trucks most places in the city as long as operators obtain required licenses, practice food and fire safety, shut down by 10 p.m. and follow a few other rules.
In one way, the new rules are less restrictive than the old ones: the trucks can now be 101 feet from a sit-down restaurant, rather than at least 201 feet required currently for trucks on public streets. The owners of a couple of restaurants in Old Town — Friesen’s Family Bakery and Midtown Tavern — initially opposed the Food Truck Hub, saying the truck operators would unfairly cut into their revenue by rolling in during peak eating hours without facing the property taxes and other expenses incurred by brick-and-mortar eateries.
The 100-foot setback for truck hubs (lots that regularly host more than three trucks) makes Fisher’s facility legal by a few feet.
Leslie Allen, owner of Allens’ Concessions, disagrees that his food truck has an unfair advantage, saying he pays property taxes on his business — he just does it indirectly.
“I sit on private property,” Allen said of his typical North Riverfront Drive location. “I pay rent. That person pays taxes.”
Allen noted that, as a small operation, he buys all of his supplies from local stores and vendors, which helps the Mankato economy.
And while he didn’t have any major complaints about the ordinance, Allen — who said his truck sells “football and baseball” food such as hamburgers, hot dogs and brats, along with a beef commercial or hamburger steak dinner — would like food trucks to be granted all the privileges of a restaurant.
Filling out a survey at the city open house, he noted his answer regarding hours of operation: “I put ’24/7. You don’t restrict brick-and-mortar restaurants, why restrict us?’ We’re both doing the same thing.”
Nearby, Daniel and April Miller — their toddler in tow — were scoping out the ordinance, along with fire code regulations spelled out by Mankato firefighter Bill Bowser and Minnesota Health Department rules explained by Environmental Health Specialist David Reimann.
The New Richland couple is preparing to construct a food truck in time for spring.
“We were wanting to do it before, but finding out about the Hub was a big bonus,” April Miller said. “That really encouraged us.”
They’re still finalizing a name for their truck, but it will offer sandwiches and “comfort foods” such as a daily hotdish. The Millers plan to be in Mankato two days a week and also make regular stops in Waseca, Owatonna and Albert Lea.
Traylor, by the way, has absolutely settled on a name for his barbecue-themed food truck.
“TNT Eats,” he said. “Where the food is the bomb!”
And even on a night where the focus was on the mundane but important rules and regulations of food service, Traylor was excited about what’s coming to town.
“If everybody’s following the same play book, I think we’ll have an interesting food scene here in Mankato,” he said.
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