East Lansing to Allow Food Trucks


The city council in my former home city of East Lansing, Michigan — home to Michigan State University — has voted to allow the operation of food trucks in the city. They did this, of course, over the objection of brick and mortar restaurants who want the government to protect them from competition.

A policy resolution passed with a 4-0 vote by East Lansing City Council Tuesday evening, allowing for the addition of two food trucks to operate in the downtown area. The trucks would have to apply for a $1,800 concessionaire’s license, renewed annually for $1,700.

“Food truck popularity is growing, so we’re responding to that demand,” Community and Economic Development Administrator Lori Mullins said…

However, in researching whether to bring food trucks into East Lansing, the city received many responses from local restaurateurs opposed to the resolution.

Aaron Weiner, general manager of Buffalo Wild Wings, 360 Albert Ave., is one of those opposed to allowing food trucks in the area. Weiner feels the license fee for food trucks is inequitable to what brick and mortar restaurants have to pay in property taxes for the same location.

The cost of a license fee is estimated to be about five times more than what a restaurant would pay to operate in the same 40-square-foot location, but Weiner said the comparison was unfair.

“We’ll be competing with someone who doesn’t share in many of the costs that we do,” he said. “It’s a very hot issue nationwide in the restaurant business right now for good reason. There’s not a single restaurant owner in the downtown area who thought this would be fair.”

Yeah, imagine that — those who don’t want competition that might decrease their sales think it’s not fair. We should have outlawed Amazon.com a long time ago, obviously, to spare Barnes and Noble the unfairness of having to compete with a company that has lower overhead. Rent-seek much?

Comments

  1. eric says

    I can see competition for some fast food joints, but not for anything higher end. If you’re buying a hot dog/burrito/sandwich from a truck on the side of the road, you aren’t likely to spend $10 and 40 minutes at a sit-down restaurant as an alternative.

  2. Ellie says

    Buffalo, NY was also having a to do about food trucks in the City. The leader of the opposition was Carl (Horse Porn) Paladino, erstwhile gubernatorial candidate. I know people who started patronizing food trucks just because of that.

  3. says

    The bricks and mortar stores aren’t going to be very happy about Amazon’s recent agreement to start charging sales tax when they realize that it frees them up to opening depots in all the major centers of urban population in the country, allowing them to offer same-day/next-day delivery without it costing the earth.

  4. Randide, Mangeons du jesuite says

    My cousin*:

    “We’ll be competing with someone who doesn’t share in many of the costs that we do.”

    You’ll also be “competing” with someone who doesn’t have alcohol sales, a full-sized kitchen, free refills on pop** and roughly a million giant TVs strewn about. In a town where they take their sports quite seriously. I’m guessing you’re gonna be fine.

    As said above, it’s the fast food places that should be doing the whining, not the casual dining establishments like BWWs.

    *No, really. So that’s kinda cool. I guess.

    **That’s right. Pop. Not soda, not cola. Pop.

  5. sisu says

    I can see competition for some fast food joints, but not for anything higher end. If you’re buying a hot dog/burrito/sandwich from a truck on the side of the road, you aren’t likely to spend $10 and 40 minutes at a sit-down restaurant as an alternative.

    You’d think that’d be the case but it hasn’t really held true here in Minneapolis. Our food trucks have gotten higher-end – lots of farm-to-table (farm-to-truck?), chef-driven concepts. It’s definitely not just burritos or hot dogs any more. Plus they get a lot of attention in our local food press.

    So Minneapolis restaurants are making the exact same arguments about license fees vs. property taxes, etc. They’re completely ignoring the fact that food trucks can usually only operate 5-6 months out of the year here anyway, because of the weather.

  6. JustaTech says

    @Sisu:
    I was wondering about that. Who wants a burrito covered in snow that’s frozen solid before you touch it? I could see the complaints in temperate climates where customers might not want to freeze/swelter, but no food is amazing enough to stand outside in a blizzard.

  7. sisu says

    @JustaTech nope, definitely not! The food trucks usually appear in April or May, and close up shop by the end of October, depending on the weather.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    Of course, the great irony is that these Brick & Mortar restaurateurs are probably good venture capitalists all and would loudly object to any government interference in their businesses. Like those tyranical socialist public health inspectors, for instance. “How do you know my customers wouldn’t want Chicken Tartar!? LET THE CUSTOMER AND THE MARKET DECIDE! FRREEEEEEEEEDDDOOOOOOM!!!”

  9. jayhawk says

    For almost 25 years, since “the mall” opened, our city has been fighting about how to “save” and revitalize downtown as it continues to die a painful death. Yet a few years ago when someone wanted to operate a hot dog cart during lunch time, a HOT DOG CART, the downtown restaurants went nuts and fought it has hard as they could. They talked about food safety, fees, tax fairness and any argument they could think of.

    The hypocrisy flowed in the streets. I think it took more than a year, but the guy was finally able to operate his part-time business and sell hot dogs at lunch and special events. Of course, most of the restaurants still went out of business, but it wasn’t because of any hot dog sales.

  10. says

    Of course, most of the restaurants still went out of business, but it wasn’t because of any hot dog sales.

    Yep, they went out of business because of teh brain damage. Because if they had realized “hey we have a KITCHEN right HERE!” they could offer a wider/faster choice of food than hot dog guy and set up right next to him.

  11. says

    I’ve seen this cut both ways.

    During summer “festivals”* some places sell a food vendor’s license for $300 (or more) for the event’s duration. Local restaurants do experience an upwelling in business but they also get thousands of walk-throughs whose only participation is in the restrooms. That, imo, is unfair. I’m all for the outside vendors being there AND for being charged for some of the infrastructural costs.

    There’s a chinese takeout/dine-in in the city I live in that’s muy busy during the school year (it’s a short walk from the college dorms and delivers until 2AM or later) but not so in the summer. The owner closes his facility from the beginning of June until around Labor Day–except for thursdays. He and his wife show up at the farmers’ market on thursdays and sell egg rolls, Gen. Gao chicken, fried rice, pot stickers and soft drinks–everything’s a buck. He does LOTS of business that day.

    * Local B&M capitalists joining together to form a vortex of commercialism with FREE art or music at it’s center.

  12. ArtK says

    SoCal seems to be ground zero for the new gourmet food-truck trend. There are scores of them. Perhaps it’s because the area is so large, but I haven’t heard any brick-and-mortar places complaining too much. The trucks move around (d’oh), so it’s not like a brick-and-mortar opening up right next door, open the same hours as an existing one.

    Several brick-and-mortar restaurants have gotten into the act. For instance, Border Grill (Mary Sue Millikan and Susan Feniger, both featured on Top Chef Masters) has a truck. They’ve figured out that having a lot of locations is expensive and dilutes the quality, so they have a mobile location in addition to the fixed ones. The restaurants in East Lansing are welcome to do the same thing.

  13. plutosdad says

    In Chicago we have a law saying trucks cannot be within 200 feet of a restaurant (and the police love to ticket them for stopping more than 20 minutes). So they’re only in the south loop or far away. The food truck people are also not allowed to cook in the trucks. So they still need commercial kitchens up to code that they cook in, then load the trucks up in the morning.

    We are trying to overturn the law, but Chicago is not exactly known for its lack of corruption and cronyism. A new law will let them cook in the trucks, but still make them park far away and only for short time periods.

    Amazing that these restaurateurs think food trucks are somehow cheap to operate. The reason the trucks are popular is that they offer exotic food that no restaurant around the area is serving. And they are good. We’re not talking a subway franchise

  14. plutosdad says

    @6 JustaTech “but no food is amazing enough to stand outside in a blizzard.”

    I guess you don’t have the food we have here. GaztroWagon operates year round. So do a lot of others, and there is always a huge line. I stood outside in sleet to get some once.

  15. eric says

    Demo @11 – our local restaurants solved that problem. For street-faire events, they put out their own vending carts and semi-close the restaurants (seated customers only, with big guys at the door to enforce it). Vending fees are used to pay for porta potties. So all vendors (including the restaurans) are supporting the cost of the bathroom infrastructure used in the faire, and the restaurant bathrooms are not heavily trafficked.

  16. a2b2 says

    The allowances for food trucks around Lansing and East Lansing have slowly been increasing, in part thanks to some wonderful vendors in the area. This new bit is about vending in downtown, which is densely packed with restaurants, but several of the truck have been permitted to work outside the downtown area and at many local events in E Lansing for a while now.

    Seriously, if you’re in the area, try to find the Purple Carrot truck, Trailer Park’d or some of the ones that attend the local farmers markets or that hang out near the capital.

  17. says

    eric@15A:

    Oh, I know that there are good, sound ways to get the problem solved, but we’re dealing with PEOPLE, people! (;>)

    For many years there was roach coach, “Gilley’s” that was parked, every afternoon, on Market Square in Portsmouth, NH. It supposedly holds the record for parking tickets issued in the Guiness Book of World Records.

    I ate there a number of times after closing the bars in the Market Square area. A plate of whites (great northern beans), two dirty water dogs, a couple of slices of wonder bread with butter–that was great drunkfood. They dogwrangler in those days was a guy who knew everybody’s name. Everybody, to him, was “Bill”. Never seemed to cause any problems on either end.

    Gilley’s has gone upscale, they took the wheels off and built an addition.

  18. says

    @JustaTech nope, definitely not! The food trucks usually appear in April or May, and close up shop by the end of October, depending on the weather.

    While I’m sure Minnesota bows to no one when it comes to foul winter weather, I live in the Denver area and my favorite burrito truck stays open year ’round. It can be 5 degrees outside and two feet of snow, and they’re serving. And I’m buying.

  19. sisu says

    I live in the Denver area and my favorite burrito truck stays open year ’round.

    Wow, you get some serious Winter Cred for that! I’m not sure if it’s a licensing issue or what, but the food trucks are definitely seasonal here.

  20. ChasCPeterson says

    I haven’t been to East Lansing since 1983. El Azteco, Bell’s Pizza, and Bagel Fragel always met my culinary needs just fine. Maybe the Stonehouse when the parents were visiting.

  21. dontpanic says

    ChasCPeterson,
    It’s been a while for me as well, but not quite that long (’83 is when I first arrived there for grad school). I don’t remember Bell’s, but El Azteco move out of the basement into swanky new digs. I wasn’t convinced that it wasn’t at the expense of the food. Perhaps the ambiance of a dive serves to improve the taste of the food, or at least the cred of being authentic. I sometimes wonder if that same effect is what drives some to rave about what they get from food trucks.

  22. erindelisle says

    The Buffalo Wild Wings owner failed to mention the amount of money they paid for the 20+ televisions in the location. Obviously the BDubb’s customer is looking for something much different than a food truck customer. Don’t hate the players, hate the game! And the restaurant game is definitely changing, so I’m glad to see the East Lansing City Council getting on board with innovation!

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