by ZACH KAYSER
The Winona City Council is considering shifting gears in its policy toward food trucks, possibly liberalizing restrictions known as the “brick and mortar rule.”
The existing ordinance requires in essence that food trucks operating in the city must be affiliated with a permanent restaurant housed in a building.
During a work session scheduled for Monday, the City Council will discuss what reforms, if any, it would find appetizing.
“That’s been a huge impediment to getting more trucks in town,” City Manager Steve Sarvi said Friday. “Are they willing to entertain the notion of eliminating that requirement? That’s probably the central question.”
Sarvi said it was not likely the public would have a chance to weigh in during the work session. However, if specific changes are formally proposed at some point, the city would be required to have a public hearing at upcoming meetings. City staff have heard public outcry for food trucks, he said, which is why they’re suggesting the council consider the issue.
The City Council previously considered repealing the prohibition on independent food trucks in 2018, but the reforms never materialized. However, council member Michelle Alexander was stridently in support of opening things up.
“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 at the time.
Contacted Friday, recently elected Mayor Scott Sherman was also on board with relaxing the ordinance. “It gives us not only variety, but competition when it comes to food choices,” he said. “It also gives an opportunity for someone who wants to start a restaurant a potential for lower overhead.”
Asked whether that lower overhead relative to brick and mortar restaurants would give food trucks an unfair advantage, Sherman said that would simply prompt the static restaurants to try and come up with a new draw to bring in customers and compete. Those restaurants would also be free to design their own food trucks, he said.
Restaurant owners had told Sherman they were in favor of allowing more trucks, as it would increase overall foot traffic in the downtown area, he said.
Winona Area Chamber of Commerce President Christie Ransom said that the group’s official position on the food truck question was neutral. However, from her personal standpoint, relaxing the food truck rules was a good idea. “Most of our businesses that are [chamber] members are in support of food trucks in an ordinance change,” she said.
The trucks could add value to the city during outdoor public events such as the Shakespeare Festival, Ransom pointed out. However, the reforms should still be considerate, she said. “Obviously we don’t want pizza trucks across the street from pizza places, and that kind of thing,” Ransom said.