City's appetite for street food: 13-0 approval

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March 29, 2010 // UPDATED 2:02 pm - April 2, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes

With a long-term goal of citywide expansion, an enthusiastic City Council unanimously voted this morning to approve an ordinance expected to greatly bump up the number and type of foods offered Downtown — and, council members hope, to boost the area’s vitality.

Under the new rules, anybody with a licensed kitchen or a license to use a commons kitchen can apply for a street-vending permit. Vendors will be assigned spots Downtown and will be able to sell any kind of food.

Traditionally, street vendors’ sales in Minneapolis have been limited to hot dogs and prepackaged foods.

The issue attracted lots of community attention in the weeks leading up to the vote. A March 22 public hearing featured a standing-room only crowd, one mostly excited about the prospect of a Minneapolis street-food scene. However, there were some concerns about the ordinance’s limitations — such as it only affecting Downtown — while a handful of Downtown restaurant owners didn’t like the idea of having competition with smaller start-up costs.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward), whose office led development of the ordinance, said those concerns helped reshape some rules. For example, before the full council voted on the ordinance, language was added that requires vendors within 100 feet of a restaurant with an outdoor presence to get that restaurant operator’s approval. (Downtown blocks are about 300 feet long.)

Goodman also eliminated a 25-permit cap originally part of the rules, although she said the impact of that likely will be minimal. She said she expects no more than a dozen operators to apply this year.

Ultimately, the council hopes to expand street vending to other parts of the city. The rules are considered a one-year trial, to see what works, where potential vendors’ interests are and how people respond. Council Member Meg Tuthill (10th Ward) mentioned her interest in seeing vendors in Uptown, while Goodman said that at this time next year, she hopes vendors will be able to roam around the city and not be tied to a single location.

For now, though, “we’re not ready for an unrestricted environment,” she said.

Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward) called the ordinance “landmark legislation.” He said it will allow the city to grow “up a little bit.”

“Even though this first year is only Downtown,” Schiff said, “I’ll tell you, Lake Street is watching and waiting.”