Sidewalk food may see more traffic

On Friday, the City Council will vote on expanding food cart licenses. For some business owners, the measure is worrisome.

Jimmy Young, a Nibbles hotdog food cart operator prepares a hotdog for a customer in downtown Minneapolis on the afternoon of 27 June. The Minneapolis City Council ruled to change an ordinance that had previously restricted the operating area of food carts.

Zach Bielinski

Jimmy Young, a Nibbles hotdog food cart operator prepares a hotdog for a customer in downtown Minneapolis on the afternoon of 27 June. The Minneapolis City Council ruled to change an ordinance that had previously restricted the operating area of food carts.

by Eliana Schreiber

Since the early 1980s, food carts were only allowed in Minneapolis’ downtown area. Now, a City Council vote could let vendors spread across the city.

Last week, Ward 5 Council Member Blong Yang introduced a proposal to expand the radius of allotted areas for food carts to span the entire city. University of Minnesota area business owners have different predictions on the potential impact of the plan in the area.

During a Minneapolis City Council hearing last week, Assistant Manager of Business Licensing Linda Roberts presented a plan for licensing the carts.

“There is a business interest for sidewalk food carts to operate outside of downtown,” Roberts said at the meeting.

The change would be similar to how the city introduced food trucks to new areas, she said at the hearing.

The sidewalk carts would be limited to fixed corridors and evaluated for safety and health regulation compliance, Roberts said.

Food Cart Owner Blaine McCutchan, who has operated Nibbles McCart since 1983, said the expansion of carts helps public safety by adding foot traffic to street corners.

The presence of food carts also livens up the city, McCutchan said at the meeting. “It gives a flavor to neighborhoods.” 

He said he now has five licenses for the carts, and still operates his original location — one of the oldest carts in the city.

“It’s not just a business for me. … It’s being involved in a piece of commerce,” McCutchan said. “It’s real.”

Expanding food carts to the whole city widens food offerings and attracts more people to create more business, he said.

Ward 9 City Council Member Alondra Cano said at the meeting the change could give business opportunities to immigrants from Latin America and other countries.

But for some Dinkytown business owners, more food carts could have negative impacts.

Dinkytown Qdoba Mexican Eats Owner Randal Gast said the food carts would compete with restaurants in that area.

“I don’t really understand what the city’s doing,” he said. “There’s no shortage of restaurants in Dinkytown.”

Many of the restaurants there already struggle to stay open each year, Gast said.

“I can assure you … [if] you tell [Dinkytown business owners] food carts are coming, they are going to have a fit,” he said.

But Annie’s Parlour and Kitty Cat Klub owner John Rimarcik said there will always be competition regardless of food cart expansion.

“Anytime anybody sells a candy bar, a hotdog or a steak dinner it competes with somebody,” he said.

Food carts are a lot of work for the operators, Rimarcik said, a factor that could limit the compe tition they bring.

“The whole deal is much more difficult than it seems,” Rimarcik said. “But am I in favor of them? Yes, I am.”

The City Council will vote on the proposed changes on Friday.