Street food status: seven rigs OKed, seven to go

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August 16, 2010
By: Jake Weyer
Jake Weyer
Roasting inside a tiny mobile kitchen on a sweltering August day doesn’t seem like the most pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but apparently it’s not as bad as it looks.

Maybe it’s just that Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer, co-owners of Chef Shack at 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue, are unrelentingly positive people. Maybe it’s the steady stream of customers lined up for ice cream, doughnuts or pork tacos. Maybe it’s both.

“We’re super thankful,” Summer said. “Everyone just loves the food and it’s a total pleasure cooking for everyone every day.”

Chef Shack is one of seven mobile food vendors licensed so far this summer and five that have actually hit the streets. Seven others are still in various stages of the city’s approval process, which has taken much longer than expected, largely because of city infrastructure concerns that led to weight restrictions in certain Downtown locations. The challenge for vendors has been finding a spot within the restrictions that not only has foot traffic, but also is free of obstructions and easily accessible.

Ricardo Cervantes, deputy director of Licenses and Consumer Services for Minneapolis, said there have been some growing pains.    

“We’ve learned some things for sure this year and I think having seven out is fantastic,” he said. “We weren’t real sure how many people were going to be interested and how many people were going to be able to make it happen, or bring it to fruition. We know there’s room for many more.”

Some approved vendors, such as Dandelion Kitchen of local farmers’ market fame, just weren’t ready earlier this summer. Co-owner Natalie Coleman said the trailer is just about done and should be parked in front of the IDS building on Nicollet Mall by the end of the month.

“It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure,” Coleman said.

Approved vendor Sophia’s Fresh Fruit (315 Nicollet Mall), also has yet to make an appearance. The street-food scene is still new, but it hasn’t taken long for lines to form outside the handful of deliciously fragrant trailers and tucks humming on Downtown sidewalks.

Here’s an overview of the new vendors:

Chef Shack

Owners: Lisa Carlson and Carrie Summer

Location: 5th Street and Hennepin Avenue

Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Date out: June 24

Offerings: Mini doughnuts are a staple, but the menu changes with the seasons, so the food is always in flux. Pork tacos, Sweet potato tacos, potato salad, hot Indian goat curry and farm-fresh strawberry ice cream were some of the menu items in August.   

The rig: It’s a truck equipped with a Belshaw donut machine (the Cadillac of doughnut machines, Summer says), a steam well, a refrigerator and a cold-serve beverage dispenser.

Startup cost: Roughly $40,000

On the city’s process: “The process was a bit lengthy as it is for any business,” Summer said. “There’s always insurance, there’s paperwork, there’s security issues, dealing with the health department, city planning. It was a lengthy process, but we have an established relationship with the city, so I felt it was a bit easier.

On business this summer: “It’s terrific, very busy,” Summer said.

Turkey to Go

Owners: Drew Levin and Danny Perkins

Location: South 8th Street and Nicollet Mall; South 6th Street and Hennepin Avenue when the Twins play at home.  

Hours: Monday–Friday, 
11 a.m.–3 p.m.; before and after Twins games

Date out: Aug. 2

Offerings: The same stuff Turkey to Go has been serving at the Minnesota State Fair since 1959: huge marinated drumsticks and giant juicy turkey sandwiches. The guys also make ice cream sandwiches with made-from-scratch cookies and ice cream.  

The rig: It’s a trailer with a huge turkey painted on both sides. It has two ovens, drawer warmers, a refrigerator and a freezer.   

Startup cost: Between $50,000 and $100,000

On the city’s process: “I think because it’s so new, I think I understand that there’s growing pains and it’s going to take time to implement. But I think what people will realize now is it’s good for the city of Minneapolis. This is what a true city looks like.”

On business this summer: On the third day of business, during the farmers’ market, customers gobbled down more than 50 pounds of turkey. Sandwiches sold out. Levin said they’ve been busy.

Smack Shack

Owner: Josh Thoma  

Location: 1st Avenue and North 4th Street

Hours: Weeknights, 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–midnight  

Date out: Aug. 4

Offerings: It’s seafood on the street. Quarter-pound lobster rolls and po’ boys with shrimp or andouille sausage are the featured items. More traditional fare such as hot dogs, fries and chips are also offered. Some special items are planned and the menu will change with the seasons.   

The rig: It’s the biggest one out there so far and hard not to notice from any angle, including the top, adorned with a giant lobster painting. The truck has two 50-pound deep fryers, a 36-inch griddle, a two-burner range, a four-door freezer and cooler combo, a prep table and air conditioning.

Startup cost: Declined to comment

On the city’s process: “The process was pretty smooth for us because we were in a private lot, so we didn’t have to deal with public works in terms of the size of our truck or sidewalk load,” Thoma said.  

On business this summer: “It’s been great,” Thoma said. “We’ve had a great response. You know you never know how things are going to go and our main concern is being able to store enough product in our truck when we get busy.”

She Royal

Owner: Hania Benti

Location: 1st Avenue and North 8th Street

Hours: Monday–Friday, 
11:30 a.m.–2 p.m.

Date out: July 7

Offerings: Ethiopian fare is the specialty, but She Royal also puts its own spin on American, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine, said Samson Benti, who’s been doing the cooking. The veggie sampler is his most touted item and features Injera bread topped with lentils, cabbage and other vegetables.  

The rig: It’s a trailer with a fryer, griddle, burner, microwave, refrigerator and freezer.

Startup cost: Roughly $45,000

On the city’s process: “It’s probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done. It’s very, very hard,” Samson Benti said. “But hopefully people will see the benefit of this.”

On business this summer: She Royal wanted to be at 7th Street and Nicollet Avenue, but was denied because the trailer weighs more than 3,000 pounds. Foot traffic in the current location is not where Samson Benti would like it to be. He needs to feed at least 100 people a day to recoup operating expenses. That hasn’t happened yet.

Cruzn Cafe

Owner: Carlos Garcia

Location: South 4th Street and Nicollet Mall

Hours: Monday–Friday, 
7 a.m.–7 p.m.

Date out: July 25

Offerings: Cruzn Café has teamed up with Downtown restaurant Darby O’Ragen’s to serve pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches, nachos and other American fare. Garcia also created the “dirty dog,” a Ball Park frank topped with queso, pulled chicken or pork, barbeque sauce and a sliced jalapeno. Coffee drinks and smoothies are also offered.  

The rig: It’s a truck outfitted with a refrigerator, steam tables, an espresso machine, blenders and an ice tub for soda.  

Startup cost: Roughly $40,000

On the city’s process: “I must be completely opposite of everybody, but I thought it was pretty painless… they were very helpful,” Garcia said. “The only complication we had was the actual physical placement.”

On business this summer: “My opinion is it’s been very slow… I get a lot of people walking by and just kind of staring and they can’t figure out what’s going on, is the fair in town or whatever,” Garcia said. “But they’re slowly opening up to it and I’ve gotta be honest, every day we tend to sell a little more and that’s a positive thing.”