By Michael P. McConnell | DailyTribune.com
FERNDALE – Food truck vendors will rally for the second monthly Metro Detroit Street Eats event here Thursday, but city officials are still working out what limits to put on the vendors outside of such special events.
The City Council over the past several weeks has tried to set specific days, locations and fees for mobile food vendors, but is still trying to balance the competing interests of food truck owners and downtown restaurant owners who fear the trucks will eat into their bottom line.
“Both groups have legitimate reasons to be interested in the ordinance,” said Mayor Dave Coulter. “We have tabled the issue until our next meeting because we want to get this right.”
Coulter and Councilman Dan Martin will work with the Downtown Development Authority and food vendors to come up with a workable ordinance, Coulter said.
“The DDA has made recommendations but some on the council thought the DDA suggestions might be too restrictive,” Coulter said.
James Mastrangel, owner of Jacques’ Tacos food truck and vice president of the Michigan Mobile Food Vendors Association, will be working city officials as they draft an ordinance for mobile food vendors.
The DDA suggested limiting food trucks, outside of monthly special events, to one day a week in the City Hall parking lot and certain loading zones in the downtown from 12 a.m. to 3 a.m. for the late-night bar crowd.
Mastrangel, however, believes allowing food trucks to operate just one day is too restrictive.
“I don’t think one day a week is going to be the answer,” he said, adding that there are only about 14 food trucks operating in the metro Detroit area. “I don’t think we are competing with the bricks-and-mortar restaurants, we’re more like an alternative to fast-food restaurants. When someone stops they want a quick taco from us, they are not going to be sitting in a restaurant for 45 minutes or an hour.”
Mastrangel has been operating his food truck on property owned by Ferndale Auto Radiator Repair on Woodward from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. He is also taking part in Thursday’s Street Eats..
Over the last several years food trucks have become a phenomenon in larger cities from New York to San Francisco. Many of the vendors offer a variety of gourmet and ethnic foods, with customers tracking the locations on websites and Twitter.
The trend is relatively new to the Midwest, Mastrangel said.
“Food vending on the streets out of a truck is such a new thing in Michigan,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure it out here. I can see legislation coming where they will standardize the rules for food trucks.”
Meantime, about eight food trucks are set to show up from 4-9 p.m. Thursday for the Street Eats event that is expected to draw several thousand people at the Rust Belt Market, at the northwest corner of Nine Mile and Woodward. The monthly event includes live entertainment and artist vendors inside the market.