Downtown Rochester is better defined by the sprawling Mayo Clinic than its dining options. But a flareup over a pizzeria’s food truck is igniting the city’s foodie scene.
Tom Boxrud and Jason Brehmer thought they had found a way around the city’s ban on food trucks on downtown streets and a way to expand BB’s Pizzaria, their 8-year-old business. They bought a food truck and struck a deal to use a church’s driveway in exchange for giving the church a portion of sales. But after a week, they were kicked out for violating a city ordinance prohibiting food trucks on downtown streets.
“One of our competitors who’s in the Galleria — not even that close to where we were at — complained,” Boxrud said. “That brought the city back out. They deemed [the driveway] to be public property.”
Now a food fight is on.
On July 1, what organizers are calling a food truck summit will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kutzky Market on 6th Street NW. in Rochester. Several food truck vendors will serve their fare amidst a public forum about changing the city’s ordinance.
Rochester’s law allows food trucks to operate in the city, just not in the central business district on public land. It also requires food trucks to move every 15 minutes. Randy Staver, Rochester City Council president, said the ordinance was passed about four years ago amid business owners’ concerns that food trucks might park in front of their establishments. No one has formally challenged the ordinance, he said.
“If someone wants to eat a slice of pizza from a truck on the street, fine. If you want to sit down in a nicer environment and have a slice of pizza, fine,” Staver said. “I think there’s room for both of those.”
Scott Foster, co-owner of four Rochester restaurants, said he has no problem with food trucks but believes they should be restricted to specific areas. “You can’t just plop down a food truck in front of a full-service restaurant that pays real estate taxes and a lot of expenses to operate,” he said.
BB’s Pizzaria and Lucy’s Tacos operate the area’s only licensed food trucks, according to Olmsted County’s Public Health Services, which issues mobile food licenses. Lucy’s Tacos usually parks its truck in the parking lot of a business, while food trucks without licenses periodically visit Rochester on private property.
As Minnesota’s third-largest city, Rochester boasts 110,700 residents. Downtown workers and visitors fill sidewalks at lunchtime.
The public appears receptive. “If you haven’t tried Lucy’s Taco Truck in #RochMN, I recommend you head there now,” Josh Doughty, a church pastor, tweeted in May. “Tried it today, and I’m a fan.”
Brehmer said that after a meeting with the city clerk last week, a place on the church’s property was found where BB’s Pizzaria can legally operate its truck.
However, Annie Henderson, a Rochester entrepreneur organizing next week’s food truck summit, said such compromises aren’t enough. “We want the people of Rochester to have a say and give them a platform where they can come and voice their opinions,” she said of the summit. “Our ordinance is definitely not up-to-date.”
Possible topic for July
The Rochester Downtown Alliance board of directors will likely discuss the issue at a July meeting, said executive director Jenna Bowman. A publicly and privately funded nonprofit whose members include city officials and business owners, the RDA works to enhance 44 blocks of the city’s core.
According to data provided by Rochester’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, 35 restaurants have opened new downtown locations in the past five years, a mix of fast-food chains such as Dunkin’ Donuts and locally owned eateries like Terza Ristorante and the Loop. Some have booths at a downtown outdoor festival known as Thursdays on First & 3rd.
Bowman likened the situation to “growing pains.” There should be enough common ground between brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks to work out a compromise, said Bowman, who previously worked for the Grand Avenue Business Association in St. Paul.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a conversation that just disappears just by saying, ‘No, we’re not looking at the ordinance,’ ” Bowman said. “We’re not the first community nor will we be the last community to take on this challenge.”