BY MICHELLE MERLIN
— EDITOR’S NOTE: Newsmakers 2013 profiles people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region during the past year.
TRAVERSE CITY — Food trucks may be able to expand their local service come spring.
City commissioners will consider extending the hours the mobile kitchens are allowed to operate, less than a year after they were authorized to serve on Traverse City’s streets.
Many consider the first seven months of food truck operation to have been a success, particularly those with ties to the mobile munch wagons.
“We learned that food trucks are a nice addition to Traverse City,” said Simon Joseph, who owns Roaming Harvest food truck. “I think (food trucks) will be definitely feasible, just like most of the service industry around here.”
Food trucks mainly stay off the streets in the winter, but do some business at private events, themed dinners and other such activities, Joseph said.
Members of the food truck community are proud of their progress in the last few months.
“Just three months later we had seven different food trucks in our lot,” said Gary Jonas, the owner of Little Fleet, a downtown bar that hosts a parking lot for food trucks. “I’d say that’s a major success in terms of number of food trucks who responded and came out.”
City commissioners this month discussed revisiting food truck hours and possibly extending them.
Currently, food trucks are allowed to operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. But Commissioner Jim Carruthers proposed considering hours of 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. to allow the trucks time to set up for breakfast and also catch the wave of early morning revelers who leave bars when they close at 2 a.m.
“Food trucks really would be able to fill the niche for people who, late at night, go out and enjoy themselves and want to grab a quick bite to eat before they head home,” Joseph said.
Commissioners plan to take up the issue again in January.
Some downtown business owners might not be agreeable. Several restaurant owners this year protested the move to allow food trucks because their owners said it’s unfair for food trucks to take business from them but have to worry about property taxes or rent, and that they don’t offer restrooms and other basics.
“I didn’t think it was a level playing field because food trucks would slide downtown in June, July, and August and then slide out,” said Rick Korndorfer, a member of the Downtown Development Authority who owns downtown property and opposes food trucks on public property. “I don’t think it’s fair to the guy who owns the bricks and mortar or the guy who rents from him … some of them just hang on until summer.”
A recent DDA survey showed that merchants want to keep food truck hours as they are, said DDA acting director Rob Bacigalupi.
“Certainly, the food trucks at the Little Fleet have been great in generating traffic down on that end of town,” Bacigalupi said. “We’ve seen some of the businesses down there have extended their hours and they’re taking advantage of the traffic down there.”