Carrie Summer and her business partner in the mobile kitchen Chef Shack have been paying rent since June 1 for a Hennepin Avenue parking lot space from which they'd hoped to be selling sidewalk food by now.
Yemesrach Benti and her brother, Sammy, have $28,000 invested in a new trailer for selling Ethiopian veggies.
But both enterprises are idle, and like other would-be sidewalk food vendors in Minneapolis, Summer and Benti are steamed. They can't sell food because they lack one thing: a city license.
"They're all telling me 'wait,'" Benti said Wednesday. "Then winter will come."
But she's not waiting. She and her brother got a St. Paul mobile vendor license in one day instead, for one-quarter of what they paid in Minneapolis on May 3 for a license they've yet to get.
"St. Paul is very business-friendly," said Summer, who has been waiting for her Minneapolis license since late May, despite already holding a city license to sell a variety of foods at the main and satellite farmers markets.
The culprit isn't city licensing folks, according to Ricardo Cervantes, a deputy director for business licensing. He said that the city's Public Works Department has been slow in signing off as required on the locations specified in the 13 applications the city has received.
The city says Public Works' OK is necessary to avoid damage to public infrastructure and to make sure that traffic isn't impeded.
For example, many vendors want to be on Nicollet Mall, but last winter's freeze-thaw damage loosened some mall surfaces enough that there's concern about more damage from trailers.
"I'm expecting that within short order -- days -- that I'll hear from [Public Works]," Cervantes said.
But Chef Shack didn't apply for the mall.
"We didn't expect it to be this long," Summer said. "I have been calling on a weekly basis and getting the complete runaround."
Natalie Coleman, owner of Dandelion Kitchen, a food stand at Midtown Farmers Market, said she was excited by the idea of adding a truck from which to serve sandwiches, soups and salads from a different location. She applied for a license on the first day possible but still doesn't have it. And since sidewalk vendors are required to operate for at least 180 days, the lagging approvals would push that period into December.
Minneapolis has previously offered push carts with limited prepackaged food, but the new law allows bigger operations on sidewalks or private lots that can prepare food on site. St. Paul permits vendors to use parking spaces, provided they feed meters and don't exceed 21 days without city permission, according to Angie Wiese, spokeswoman for that city's Department of Safety and Inspections.
Benti got same-day approval of her St. Paul license and paid $244, compared to more than $1,000 in Minneapolis. But she envisioned serving lentils and sambusas in downtown Minneapolis to Somali cabdrivers, among other customers, and St. Paul has fewer Somalis.
"We're glad to have their business," said St. Paul's Wiese.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438