Mobile Vendors an Issue in St. Cloud

St. Cloud food vendor Mark Tompkins, who has set up shop adjacent to a Wendy’s fast food restaurant near the Tractor Supply store on 13th Street in St. Cloud, shows off his popular hot dogs.

By Fallan Patterson – Staff Writer | AroundOsceola.com

St. Cloud food vendor Mark Tompkins, who has set up shop adjacent to a Wendy’s fast food restaurant near the Tractor Supply store on 13th Street in St. Cloud, shows off his popular hot dogs. News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan

St. Cloud business owners aired their concerns and frustrations about mobile food carts and the cart’s vendors defended their stands at the Jan. 20 City Council workshop.

Mayor Rebecca Borders described the purpose of the workshop, which normally does not allow for public comment, as a way for council members to gauge what residents want in the way of mobile food vending.

As per city code, mobile vending carts are only given permits for special events, such as lakefront celebrations. However, six vendors last year were provided letters from the city permitting them to serve everything from barbecue to hot dogs in local parking lots. Those letters expired the day of the workshop, but the council agreed to extend the expiration date until it could make a decision on mobile vending.

St. Cloud Mayor Rebecca Border

“It’s not about any specific vendor,” Borders said.

A large group of business owners appointed Koffee Kup owner Frank Woodsby as spokesman to outline grievances to the council, which included the economy, liability, licenses and sanitation.

“We’ve got our livelihood in these businesses. We employ a lot of people in St. Cloud,” Woodsby said. “The economy ain’t what it used to be. You start bringing these (carts) in and it takes a little bit (of business away) at a time.”

Woodsby said the food service industry is the largest industry in St. Cloud.

The business owners are also concerned with the way the mobile carts look along 13th Street. Woodsby compared it to vendors peddling everything from tacos to bed sheets in downtown Orlando along Orange Blossom Trail.

“It’s going to look like a circus,” he said. “We’ve got an image here.”

Vice Mayor Mickey Hopper agreed, saying she did not want St. Cloud to look “tacky.”

Vendors were quick to defend their stands, stating their carts are properly licensed, clean and offer convenient food to residents.

Mark Tompkins, who operates Red Hot Cart Co., which sells hot dogs and sausages in the Tractor Supply parking lot, said he spent $12,000 on his cart and provides a wanted service to harried mothers and busy city workers.

“The best thing in the world is operating a hot dog stand,” he said. “It’s just a great part of community.”

Vinny and Sharon Barber, a son and mother whose family operates BarberQ in the Rife’s Supermarket parking lot, spent $74,000 on their mobile food trailer to support their family after construction jobs dried up.

“What about the small person trying to make a living?” Sharon Barber said.

Her family purchases all the meat for the business from Rife’s, which owner Kenny Rife has said previously helps keep his business afloat.

Vinny Barber told the council he hopes the workshop and the public’s comments help pave the way for small businesses trying to open in St. Cloud.

“Our city could then be the example that other cities use and the tides of government would turn back to where they started, in favor of the people, not a controller of the people,” he said.

Councilman Tom Griffin supports allowing vendors to sell as long as guidelines are determined.

“There’s merit to both sides of the discussion,” he said. “There’s room for all of this within limits.”

Councilman Jarom Fertic agreed with Griffin and said the situation is fine as it is.

“I don’t have a problem with a business if they’re trying to become permanent,” he said. “Everybody starts out somewhere.”

Councilman Russell Holmes said he received many phone calls about the issue but said his main concern lies with the vendors putting “our sustained business out of business.”

“I’d like to see it fair across the board,” he said.

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