by CHRIS ROGERS
A majority of Winona City Council members say they support allowing more food trucks downtown. They have tried changing city rules to do so. However, the city code still contains major barriers to mobile eateries, including the requirement that food trucks — with few exceptions — be operated by a company with a brick-and-mortar restaurant within city limits. Once again, for at least the third time in four years, the City Council will consider changing those restrictions.
“I work pretty closely with a lot of downtown business owners and this is something that has come up again and again from a wide variety of business owners and managers,” City Council member Eileen Moeller said. Moeller raised the issue earlier this month and, with the support of fellow council member Pam Eyden and Mayor Mark Peterson, directed city staff to place the topic on a future council agenda.
Food trucks are licensed by state health inspectors, but current city rules prohibit food trucks not affiliated with a brick-and-mortar Winona restaurant — except that food trucks are allowed at certain special events, on private property a distance away from restaurants, or at certain parks.
“What I’ve been hearing is that the current restrictions on food trucks are really prohibitive and are not really conducive to what the business of a food truck is, which is often a business owner who is just starting up and doesn’t have the money for a restaurant,” Moeller explained. “I think if we are a city that’s dedicated to entrepreneurship and we’re restricting the growth of some entrepreneurs then that’s not really on-brand.”
Moeller’s predecessor, former council member Gerry Krage, defended the brick-and-mortar rule in 2018, arguing, “The city runs on its tax dollars and its brick-and-mortar [restaurants] are the ones that pay tax dollars.”
Some restaurant owners have expressed their concerns about competing with food trucks, Peterson acknowledged. “I think there’s a role for food trucks, and I think we’ve got to be sensitive to the restaurants and you don’t want anybody parking their food trucks out in front of a restaurant that’s paying taxes,” he said. “But I think there is a role. I think it’s working in other towns, and I think it’s something we could look at closer in Winona.”
Moeller said she was interested in better understanding concerns about food trucks. However, she stated that competition and more choices for consumers is not necessarily a bad thing.
Other City Council members asked for discussion of food truck rules back in April, but nothing ever came of their request. “I just think it got overlooked,” Peterson said.
This time around, city manager Steve Sarvi said city staff would research food truck ordinances in other cities and present a menu of options to the City Council, probably after the new year. “We’re going to take a look at what other communities are doing that seem to have it down. I know some communities have them in little districts.” Asked if eliminating the brick-and-mortar rule would be one of the options, Sarvi said it likely would be. “There’s a lot for us to consider,” he added. “The easiest thing to do would be to leave it the way it is, so we’ll see what [the council members’] interests are.”