by CHRIS ROGERS
Last spring, the Winona City Council revised its food truck ordinance with the goal of relaxing the rules to allow more food trucks to operate in the city. In downtown Winona, the rule change did not attract any more food trucks.
Now, the city is taking another look at whether its food truck rules are too tight, including the current rule that any food truck operating on city streets must be associated with a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
Currently, food trucks are only allowed on Third Street downtown, at Lake Park between the bandshell and Bambenek Fields, or on private property. On Third Street, food trucks are limited to the hours of 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., and whether they are on Third Street or private property, food trucks must be 150 feet away from any restaurant building.
Some of the city’s rules for food trucks were designed to protect restaurants from food trucks. Years ago, a downtown restaurant reported problems with a food truck parking directly outside its door. Customers would frequent the food truck instead of the restaurant, then trash the restaurant’s bathrooms without paying, the restaurant owners stated. Some City Council members have also been concerned about making sure that food trucks do not edge out brick-and-mortar businesses that are paying property taxes. On the other hand, other city leaders have said that the city needs more choices, and that in the long run, food trucks may help Winona’s restaurant scene.
City manager Steve Sarvi explained why city staff were proposing slight changes to the locations and hours food trucks could operate, and bringing up the idea of eliminating the brick-and-mortar rule. “We’re just hearing from people that there are not enough options, so that’s why we brought it back to the council, as well,” he said.
Why is the brick-and-mortar rule on the books to begin with, council member Pam Eyden asked. “So that was a non-compete kind of thing?” she asked. It was about putting food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants on an equal playing field, council member Al Thurley responded.
It is unclear whether the full council will support changing the brick-and-mortar rule, but council member Michelle Alexander encouraged staff to go even further in opening up locations and hours of operation to food trucks. She called for food trucks to be allowed anywhere downtown from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. or in any park during park hours. “There may be places we’re not even thinking about where people may want food. I just feel that limiting them this way is overly restrictive,” Alexander said. “I think the more options people have downtown, the better,” she added.
City staff are expected to bring a revised food truck ordinance back to the City Council for more discussion later this month.