By Chad Coleman | Bellevue Reporter
A new breed of gourmet food carts are catching on in Bellevue, offering fresh ingredients and a signature style.
Every Thursday afternoon the parking lot of Barnes and Noble fills with hungry employees from around downtown eager to chow down on the signature hamburgers and poutine fries from Skillet.
“We would say that Bellevue is probably our number one market over Seattle,” said Skillet owner Josh Henderson. “That has to do with the concentration of people in businesses eating lunch, where in Seattle it’s a little more spread out.”
Over on the corner of Main Street and Bellevue Way, Tuscan Stone Woodfire Pizza has become a staple lunch option. With it’s classic pizza oven, menu variety and friendly employees, word has spread. While it only has been in that spot since March, the location has been one of the company’s most consistent. Tuscan Stone’s Shane Baisch said the cart will operate year-round, and drivers can park and have employees bring food out to them when it’s raining.
The city doesn’t keep track of the number of food carts, but it did issue about five permits in 2009 and 2010 after the market went dormant for a couple years, according to City Planner Ken Thiem. Vendors only are allowed to set up on private property, can’t block traffic or pedestrians and can’t take up required parking. They also must fit with the existing character of the neighborhood.
“If you look at our requirements, there’s really a minimum number for a food cart,” Thiem said.
But the city did become more involved earlier this year when a number of food truck owners proposed a food cart district at the Woodfire Pizza location. However, Bellevue would require design review, much like any other development, a process that could take four months.
That turned out to be too much for Cary Roth, who is leasing the property. However, his control of the land is only temporary, he said, as it was set to be developed by a Spokane-based group before the economy crashed.
“It would have made what is otherwise a blighted and misused corner something that might be fun for people,” Roth said
Nevertheless, one nearby business owner took exception to the plan. Stu Vander Hoek has spent much of his life in Old Main. He owns the land occupied by Cupcake Royal, La Cocina and 7/11 among others. He felt the lone Tuscan Stone cart didn’t fit with the character of the area, one of the requirements for a permit. Also, he saw the cart as unwelcome competition that doesn’t have to abide by the same rules as a nearby restaurant.
Had the larger development been more collaborative, Vander Hoek said he would be more likely to get on board.
“If the really big idea was to have multiple vendor carts and create a destination, and bring in a whole bunch of people, let’s talk about it,” he said. “But let’s package it in a way to create more opportunities for the merchants in Old Bellevue.
Henderson, the owner of Skillet, sees both sides of this issue. With a diner on Seattle’s Capitol Hill and the cart, he feels that both have a place in the restaurant environment.
“The reality is there’s street food all over the world; this wrinkle is going to happen,” Henderson said.