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Duluth City Council approves food trucks, carts ordinance

Mobile food vendors operating in Duluth will need to steer around some new rules this summer and pay steeper fees to do business in the city. By a unanimous vote on Monday night, the Duluth City Council approved a new ordinance governing food tru...

Food cart
Last July Duke Forster (left) of Superior buys a hot dog from Jodi Timmersman of Cloquet, owner of D's Dogs, a hot dog cart that travels Superior Street. (2012 file / News Tribune)

Mobile food vendors operating in Duluth will need to steer around some new rules this summer and pay steeper fees to do business in the city.

By a unanimous vote on Monday night, the Duluth City Council approved a new ordinance governing food trucks and carts.

"This gives us an opportunity to really bring mobile food into the mainstream in Duluth," said Councilor Emily Larson, who authored the new ordinance.

She congratulated food truck operators, local restaurateurs and others, including the Greater Downtown Council, the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce for their work helping to craft the new rules. Larson said she has been working on the issue for more than six months.

The new ordinance requires mobile food vendors to stay at least 200 feet away from any operating bricks-and-mortar eateries. It also requires operators to purchase an annual license.

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Food trucks and carts respectively will pay $485 and $175 per year to do business in Duluth.

Duluth originally contemplated a license fee on a par with the $818 that food trucks pay in Minneapolis and about $400 for food carts.

But food truck and cart operators warned the fees would serve as a disincentive for people to bring their mobile offerings to the city.

Until this year, mobile food vendors needed only to pull a $51 peddler's license to operate in Duluth.

Stacey Achterhoff, known on the local food scene as Mrs. Delicious, plans to sell frozen treats from her bicycle-powered cart in Duluth this summer. But she said a $400 licensing fee would have given her pause to enter the fray.

"That's a lot of bomb pops," she said.

But Achterhoff said she's satisfied with the balance struck in the ordinance passed Monday.

"I think Duluth could have a good, vibrant food truck and food cart scene, but we recognize we all need to be mindful of other businesses, and this protects established bricks-and-mortar restaurants," Achterhoff said.

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Previously, there were no setback provisions from operating restaurants.

That's not to say that food trucks regularly set up shop in front of other restaurants.

The operators of the Chow Haul and the Rambler, two established food trucks that began doing business in Duluth last year, said they made a point to keep the peace with existing conventional businesses.

"We didn't want to step on anyone's toes," said Jonathan Reznick, owner of the Rambler, of his approach to entering the Duluth market. "We wanted to keep people happy, while we got our foot in the door of the local business community."

Samara Heim, co-owner of the Chow Haul, said the new ordinance should help ensure everyone plays by the same rules.

"It should keep everyone in check, so we don't have someone blowing it for everyone else," she said.

But Heim said maintaining the 200-foot setback could prove a difficult challenge. Vendors could be denied access to much of downtown Duluth, including most of Superior Street, under the new rules. Yet Heim notes that this requirement can be waived with the express permission of neighboring businesses.

Larson spoke enthusiastically about the new offerings food trucks and carts could bring to town.

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"I'm really excited and looking forward to a delicious summer here in Duluth," she said.

Related Topics: FOODRESTAURANTS AND BARS
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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