BURLINGTON, VT - Burlington is taking an initial look at bringing food trucks into the downtown to open up more spaces to a growing industry.
The city’s Community and Economic Development Office began exploring the idea after hearing from vendors who want Burlington to become a friendlier environment for food trucks.
“We’ve just been inspired by other cities who are doing lots of innovative things with food trucks, but also by the demand that we have here,” said Diana Colangelo, economic development specialist.
A city ordinance currently prohibits larger food trucks from operating in the downtown area. Outside of that area, food trucks must park at non-metered spaces, and if trucks want to set up shop at a city park, they need to work out an arrangement with the Department of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront. Oakledge Park allows two food trucks for the first time this year.
So the idea of food trucks pulling up outside of downtown businesses at lunchtime remains several steps from becoming reality — including a significant amount of public input. Colangelo’s office has also yet to settle on a location for the trucks.
Colangelo said, however, that she hopes food trucks could be allowed downtown as early as next year.
Vendors say greater access to downtown would give entrepreneurs a leg up.
“For me, you cannot truly be endorsing food trucks without allowing them to access areas where our tourists will be,” said Marcelle Bunbury-Whitcomb, who owns a Caribbean food truck called Bunbury EAT with her husband, Robert Whitcomb.
The city also recognizes that trucks might be unwelcome neighbors for some downtown restaurants.
“I think our interest is supporting businesses of all types in the city,” said Colangelo.
The suggestions come as a Burlington City Council committee is separately reopening the ordinance that regulates peddlers, including food trucks.
Full plates, with limits
Burlington’s food truck scene is relatively small but growing.
In the last year, the number of traveling food truck licenses in Burlington has grown from 7 to 11, said Jean Poulin, who handles peddler licensing at City Hall.
There’s a waiting list for the seven food truck spots near the University of Vermont, and hip South End venue ArtsRiot fills its parking lot with food trucks and lines of customers every Friday in the summer.
Pam Bissonnette, whose Pam’s Deli truck has been parked on University Place for 31 years, said she has “definitely” seen an increase in food trucks in Burlington through the years.
However, Bissonnette said, she believes limitations are necessary. She remembers a time when 13 vendors packed into University Place, prompting the current regulations.
“I think there should be a limit, I really do, because I know the restauranteurs pay a lot more than what we do,” Bissonnette said as she and her husband, George, served sandwiches and burgers at lunchtime Tuesday.
“I just think there’s so much energy right now for food trucks, for food truck culture,” said Liz Carson, sales director for Queen City Pops, a new company that sells frozen chocolate truffles out of a cart. “It has so much less risk involved than opening a storefront or opening a restaurant.”
“In some ways it’s almost like an incubator program — to see how it goes to make some money, gain a customer base and then take it to the next step,” added her sister, Sarah Carson, who owns the business.
Since Queen City Pops operates out of a cart instead of a truck, the business is allowed to reserve a designated spot downtown.
The sisters say it is a challenge to be a new food vendor in Burlington because the most coveted spots are already taken — and they’d like to see some locations reserved as rotating vendor spots. Overall, however, they said they believe Burlington’s regulations work well.
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