People who want to sell food from mobile carts in downtown Minneapolis will start applying for licenses this weekend.
The timing of the new program is designed to give entrepreneurs the chance to be ready for the summer season.
However, it's going to be a struggle for some would-be mobile vendors to get up and running that quickly.
The massive ovens at The Salty Tart bakery are buzzing as owner Michelle Gayer folds melted chocolate into a mixture of buttercream and Swiss merengue.
"That look good? Wait until you taste it," she says.
And yes, it was VERY good. Gayer is hoping to expand her business outside the confines of the Midtown Global Market. She wants get a license to sell her sweet and savory pastries from a sidewalk cart downtown.
"We do sandwiches and in the winter time we do soups. So maybe we do a little bit of sandwiches, so we get a bit of that morning crowd and get a little of that lunch business," she says.
But Gayer says it's not going to be cheap to get started. She estimates it will take her $7,000 to buy the kind of cart she'll need. And that doesn't include the $480 license fee. Gayer says it will also be a bit of an initial strain on her employees.
"But I don't think its anything we couldn't handle and find the right people for. I think we'd all want a little part of it," she says. Some vendors already have what they need to start selling food downtown.
The Chef Shack has three mobile food trucks that make regular appearances at farmers markets and street fairs in the metro area. The trucks are too big to fit on a sidewalk. So Chef Shack co-owner Carrie Summer says they will apply for a license to set up shop in a downtown parking lot. She says it's about time Minneapolis caught up with the city of St. Paul, which has fewer restrictions on street food.
"Two out of our three trucks are fully licensed to go over to St. Paul, anytime, any day or night or any time, anywhere," Summer says. "And I really think that's how Minneapolis should look ahead to the future. To broaden the whole horizon of everything. So, hopefully they'll move in that direction."
For at least this year, the city will confine street food to within the core of downtown. City leaders say they do want to eventually expand street food to the rest of the city. But they want to take this year to work out any logistical problems that might come up.
The city has already had to address a series of concerns raised by some downtown restaurant owners. For instance, restaurateurs worried that a nearby cart could siphon some of their business.
But Joanne Kaufman of the Warehouse District Business Association says the carts will increase foot traffic, and that's good for everybody's business.
"As people see that this isn't the death of your established business that's been there for five, 10, 15, 20 years, it's -- I think it's an enhancement to downtown Minneapolis," Kaufman says. "It's more choices and I think anytime you have more choices, that's a good thing."
Food vendors get to choose where they want to set up, but the city has established some restrictions. For instance, street corners are off limits. Sidewalk carts can't block pedestrian traffic. And some heavily walked areas, like First Ave. north or Nicollet Mall, are already crowded with sidewalk cafes.
Carts also can't be too close to a bus stop, a cab stand or an intersection. Plus, mobile vendors will not be allowed within 500 feet of Target Field -- that's Twins territory.
Sarah Harris is the director of the Downtown Improvement District. The district contains much of the core of downtown, which is where street vendors will be allowed to operate. Harris says sidewalk vendors will have to adapt to their surroundings.
"I wouldn't say that the sidewalks are a limitation," Harris says. "I would say that the sidewalks will help vendors to determine how big their carts can be or how small their carts need to be in order to fit."
Harris says despite some of the potential obstacles, there's a lot of interest on the part of vendors. However, city officials estimate that maybe only a dozen or so vendors will make it to the street this year.