A decades-old law limiting sidewalk food carts to Minneapolis’ downtown could soon be expanded, allowing food entrepreneurs to park their carts in commercial areas across the city.

While food trucks have been multiplying around Minneapolis in recent years, city ordinances that date to 1893 have kept smaller food carts confined to operating downtown. The rules have been largely untouched in the century-plus they’ve been around.

Leaders of business development groups say those outdated rules amount to a lost opportunity for both communities that need more fresh food options and would-be entrepreneurs who lack the money to start with a brick-and-mortar restaurant or even a food truck. Now, they’re hoping a proposal that Council Member Blong Yang will introduce next week will provide more room for businesses to grow and add life to business districts.

There’s already interest on W. Broadway in north Minneapolis and Lake Street on the city’s South Side.

“This is a low-risk, low-cost way for someone to actually present their product to market,” said Marcus Owens, president of the Northside Economic Opportunity Network.

Owens, whose organization consults with and trains lower-income entrepreneurs in north Minneapolis, said he approached Yang about the idea after hearing from people who wanted to find a way to sell their homemade food. One client wanted to start a corned-beef sandwich shop, but couldn’t afford to start up a restaurant or a food truck.

“When you’re low-to-moderate income, you don’t have a lot of assets, you don’t have a 401K to tap into, or a savings account, and a food cart is a lot cheaper,” Owens said.

Owens’ organization is already working with another North Side group, Appetite for Change, to start a business incubator program for food entrepreneurs. The first group of participants will begin this fall, and Owens said some may be interested in starting food carts.

Entrepreneurs welcome

Michelle Horovitz, executive director of Appetite for Change, said a few food carts have gotten their start out of a shared commercial kitchen her organization runs, and she believes there will be interest in more carts from both entrepreneurs and residents in areas like W. Broadway.

“There’s clearly a demand in customers that live and work in the area, because there aren’t a lot of places to get fresh, convenient food,” she said.

If the council approves the proposal, Horovitz said she hopes the city will also consider providing incentives to cart operators who sell healthy food.

Yang’s proposal would also reduce the annual food cart license from $904 to $818, which would match the rate for food trucks. The carts would be restricted from school or park property unless granted special permission from those institutions. They would also be subject to a long list of city health and safety requirements.

Yang said he sees the food carts as one of many strategies that could bring more attention to streets like W. Broadway, which he said largely shuts down after about 8 p.m.

“It’s not that lively street that you’d like to see, and this might add to it,” he said.