Detroit food truck lovers and food truck owners may be rejoicing if a new ordinance that is in the works passes, as it could change the game for Detroit’s food trucks.

The essence of the ordinance would make it easier for a business to become a food truck and find places to legally park, which is essential for profit and for the industry to flourish.

The effort is spearheaded by Detroit District 6 City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López who aims to have it passed by the end of this year so it is running by 2016. If passed, the food truck ordinance will allow landowners to get a permit to zone their lot as a food pod. The landowners can then contract with different food truck owners to lease space within the pod.

Raquel Castañeda-López (in yellow) Photo courtesy: Facebook
Raquel Castañeda-López (in yellow) Photo courtesy: Facebook

“It’s going to be a zoning ordinance regulating where the food pods can be,” Castañeda-López said. “That is still being determined, but ideally they would be allowed throughout the city of Detroit so everyone would have access to food trucks.”

Food pods and relaxed regulations have been credited for the flourishing food truck scene in Austin, TX and Portland, Ore. Food pods were actually a suggested proposal as early as 2012 as a way for food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants to coexist. Food truck success is often determined by power in numbers. If made legal, Detroit food pods will provide a space for many food vehicles to consistently gather, away from brick and mortar competition.

District 6, where Castañeda-López serves, encompasses the area just west of downtown Detroit, including Corktown and Southwest Detroit. But the ordinance would be city wide.

One food truck that is a fan of the food pod idea is The Mac Shack, one of Detroit’s most popular food trucks, often selling their wildly imaginative macroni and cheese bowls at Eastern Market, Campus Martius and major Detroit festivals.

“If we went to other places where there are food pods, where more trucks will be, it will draw more people and they will be able to experience more food than just us and other popular trucks,” said Ben Beazely, one of the co-owners. “As long as they are not trying to make it illegal for us to go to certain spots, because we’ve had to go through a lot of hoops to try to get legal in the city.”

The next part of the ordinance will establish a solid framework for how food trucks can operate within Detroit. As of right now, no framework exists, which makes it confusing and frustrating to conduct business.

“People can get permits at the state level, but not the city level,” Castañeda-López said. “I’m hoping this law will make it clear [by answering] this is what you have to do to own a food truck, operate one, and where you can be located. Inspectors aren’t always clear and the police departments are not always clear. That could impact public health and safety. There are people who are wanting to operate food trucks in different neighborhoods, but they can’t because it’s not clear.”

Concrete Cuisine was one of the earlier food trucks
Concrete Cuisine was one of the first local food trucks

Jeff Aquilina, food truck co-owner of Concrete Cuisine, operated one of the first trucks on the scene. His truck sells American favorites packed with bold smokey flavor.

“I’m most excited for the ordinance to define where food trucks can park because there is no clear, definitive place we can park and they just make up the rules as they go along it seems,” Aquilina said. “It affects what we can do and can’t do.”

With the food truck industry gaining traction, even brick and mortar businesses like Andiamo’s, known around Metro Detroit for its higher-end Italian food, are branching out and experimenting with the new medium. Andiamo’s debuted their first food truck in Greektown this June.

After reaching out to many brick and mortar restaurants in Greektown, Corktown and Campus Martius, where food truck gatherings are mostly likely to affect business, they unanimously responded that the food truck industry does not pose a threat.

The major categories included in the ordinance clarify the permitting process, legalizing food pods, defining where food trucks can park, and developing categories of mobile food businesses.

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