FLINT, MI – Curbside dining could be headed to downtown Flint if a local businessman gets his way.
Food trucks offering everything from hot dogs to gourmet tacos have proven a popular drawn in big cities like Los Angeles but, so far, have mainly steered clear of Flint.
Now, the creative director for a Flint ad agency wants to park a refurbished trolley inside the Flat Lot at South Saginaw Street near East First Street and sell ice cream out of it with an aim toward attracting young families downtown.
Joshua Spencer, who is the creative director at The Spencer Agency and director of the non-profit Ichthus Flint, said the ice cream trolley is coming in from Austin, Texas, will be restored and will have five to 10 employees inside. Patrons won’t go inside, but will be able to sit on benches near the trolley.
”We’ll probably be opening in mid-July through the end of the summer and intend to be back each summer at the same or new locations,” Spencer said. “Who knows where we’ll be at that point. We’d like to remain on Saginaw.”
Food trucks began in Los Angeles and are popular because local laws allow gourmet food vendors to drive up to a curbside and sell items such as grilled cheese, artisan sandwiches and tacos, according to Greg Gless, food truck expert withroaminghunger.com.
The website pulls food truck locations across the country, with the locations photos and Twitter feeds in order for customers to find where their favorite truck is set up or look for vendors in their locations.
“A lot of it has to do with the layout of the city itself,” Gless said, adding that Columbus has 50-plus trucks that go throughout The Ohio State University campus. “Their concept ties in very well with the campus community.”
Food truck rallies started in Dearborn two years ago as a way to get people to various parts of downtown, according to Cindy Grimade, the city of Dearborn’s liaison to the West Dearborn Downtown Development Authority.
“It brings people to the district and once they’re there, they stay,” she said. “We’ve been very happy with the turnouts. Individual business where the food trucks set up have said their sales were up – some of them said (sales) almost doubled.”
Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said the ice cream trolley would send a message about downtown Flint.
“A successful ice cream shop is a sign of a healthy downtown,” he said. “Food trucks and creative eating establishments are the new trends for downtowns. It’s wonderful to see a local entrepreneur trying the concept here.”
Flint Crepe Company Robb Klaty ran into trouble with the mobile food concept a few years ago after putting a“Crepe Cart” in a parking lot across from the Genesee County Court House.
The cart was ticketed shortly after it began operating and was moved to the Flint Farmers Market.
City Attorney Peter Bade said vendors who want to sell food need proper permits, which is what Spencer is applying for through the Flint Planning Commission.
Klaty welcomes the idea of a mobile ice cream shop.
“I’m in favor of the more business the better,” said Klaty, who also owns Table & Tap. “People say they would compete with us, but I don’t think it would. If it means another business down here, I think it’s great.”
Flint resident Brieon Jones said downtown Flint needs more fast dining options.
“It’s pretty convenient for family functions like Back to the Bricks and the Crim,” said Jones, 26, while eating outside at 501 Bar & Grill earlier this week.
Jones said she previously lived in Houston, Texas, and that food trucks were very popular in the downtown there.
While the project has taken three months to get to this point, Spencer said it took a long time to find a trolley.
“We would try to mimic the historic trolleys of Flint,” he said. “When we brought it up to people, of course they get excited because Flint used to have trolleys.”
Spencer still must get final approval from the planning commission before the trolley can open.