Food Service & Agriculture, Government, and Law

Free the food trucks

September 29, 2016
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The clock hits 11:45 a.m. and your stomach starts to rumble. You remember that, in your morning shuffle, you neglected to pack a lunch and your current craving is a meal on wheels. Thankfully, due to the PILOT Mobile Food Business Ordinance — a new two-year pilot program — your dream is now a reality.

As the demand for food trucks has increased in Grand Rapids, so has the legal talk surrounding them. The concept of food served out of trucks is nothing new. First gaining in popularity up and down the West Coast, the concept has spread nationwide. On the surface, the idea is simple: a restaurant you can drive (almost) anywhere. In reality, however, it’s not that easy.

Until the recent food truck ordinance was passed, food trucks in Grand Rapids were only permitted to do business on private property. This is why they were most often spotted downtown outside the Grand Rapids Art Museum by Rosa Parks Circle, as this space, being privately owned, was one of the few places  food trucks were welcome in the downtown area. These limitations, however, constrained the food truck industry.

It was previously proposed that the new ordinance lift the “private property only” restriction, allowing the trucks to serve on any public property. In lieu of complete access to all public properties, the new ordinance establishes several “food truck opportunity areas,” which include citywide industrial areas, 13 areas in the downtown area and seven city parks. In addition to those areas, the Corridor Improvement Districts (Southtown, Michigan Street, North Quarter, Uptown and West Side) have been designated “food truck-eligible areas.” The ordinance encourages the business owners in these areas to not only allow them, but to “discuss the value of food trucks as economic development tools and recommend locally-determined food truck management guidelines to City Commission.” An area that has been debated in regard to the ordinance is the hours of operation. Further guidelines define the hours of operation as follows:

  • 6-2:30 a.m. in the downtown designated areas.
  • Dusk until dawn in the noted seven parks.
  • 24 hours in industrial designated areas.
  • CID areas will follow the rules that are recommended by the CID boards following approval from the City Commission.

True to its name, this new ordinance is a pilot program. For the next two years, the food trucks in Grand Rapids will operate under these new regulations. Hours of operation are still limited, as are the areas in which they can serve food. The ordinance offers the opportunity to “test the waters” and grow the community of mobile dining. As stated in the ordinance, the goal moving forward is to “amend City food truck policy in a way that better supports culinary entrepreneurship, small business development and placemaking.”

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