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Food Trucks Now Welcomed By Downtown Organization

For years the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis opposed food carts/trucks, saying they were unfair competition to brick & mortar restaurants.

Food truckle on Locust for a Partnership for Downtown lunchtime event
Food truckle on Locust for a Partnership for Downtown lunchtime event on Tuesday

I’m glad to see they’re finally on board with mobile food. Here’s the info from Tuesday:

Lunchtime Live!
What: Lunchtime Live! Concert Series

Where: Old Post Office Plaza (8th & Locust)

When: Every Tuesday, May – September (11:30 am – 1:30 pm)

More Information: 314-436-6500 ext. 237 or lvanquaethem@downtownstl.org

The Partnership for Downtown St. Louis is scheduled to present Lunchtime Live!, a concert series at the Old Post Office Plaza, occurring every Tuesday, May – September. The Old Post Office Plaza is a unique 30,000 square-foot open space that is surrounded by restaurants, hotels, office and residential buildings, right in the heart of Downtown.

Each week, a different band will perform and an assortment of Food Trucks will be featured. This week (6/10) we invite you to listen to the musical stylings of the Trixie Delighter and enjoy delicious food from Bombay Food Junkies, Guerilla, My Big Fat Greek Truck and Sweet Divine! (source)

Given that no food establishments face their Old Post Office Plaza the options for food are limited. Brick & mortar restaurants aren’t going to prepare food, set up tents, during the lunch rush hour to sell to a smallish crowd.  I think more activities and more food trucks will attract more people, benefitting everyone. I’m glad to see they’ve changed their policy.

— Steve Patterson


Pop-Up Retail Different Than Food Trucks?

Downtown and city leadership have long opposed food carts/trucks, citing the need to support brick & mortar restaurants over temporary operations with little overhead.  Retail, however, is viewed differently. “Pop-up retail”  gets the blessing of the Partnership  for Downtown St. Louis.

A pop-up retail event at the Old Post Office Plaza which is owned by the Partnership  for Downtown St. Louis
A pop-up retail event at the Old Post Office Plaza which is owned by the Partnership for Downtown St. Louis

Don’t get me wrong, I like pop-up retail and pop-up/drive-up restaurants. They seem the same to me, a business in a temporary location for a brief period. I’m in the camp that thinks more street vending would make downtown more vibrant, attracting more people. More people means more customers for brick & mortar retail & restaurants.

Conversely, dead sidewalks are a disincentive to walk and window shop.   A decade ago leaders wanted to make the Old Post Office District a 24/7 area, but they haven’t done much of anything to get there.  Culinaria initially stayed open until 10pm but now closes at 9pm.

Can anyone tell me why pop-up retail is OK but pop-up restaurants aren’t?



Poll: Thoughts on the Regulation of Food Trucks & Carts?

ABOVE: Customers lined up to buy pizza from Pi on Locust St recently

Saw this bit of information last week about a new regulation regarding food trucks in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights:

The code requires rolling merchants to operate within health regulations and have a trash receptacle available. They may operate only on occupied properties, with the owner’s permission, and only while the primary establishment is operating or for 12 hours, whichever is less. Also, they may not establish a stand within 25 feet of a public road. (STLtoday.com)

Unlike urban places, I don’t think Maryland Heights has any on-street parking, except maybe in residential neighborhoods. Still, food trucks are booming in St. Louis:

The food truck trend has hit St. Louis with a bang, with more trucks than ever now trolling the streets to serve up everything from pizza to tacos to cupcakes to hungry St. Louisans willing to track down their mobile meals on Facebook and Twitter. (Sauce Magazine)

Cities, including the City of St. Louis, are grappling with how to regulate food trucks and other food vendors. Health regulations seem a no-brainer but the issue of where they are or are not allowed to vend is the big issue.

ABOVE: Mangia Mobile at the recent GroupHugSTL event

Officials may long for the day when the most mobile food vendors just had a stainless steel hot dog cart.

There are 190 food-service establishments in downtown St. Louis, and some restaurateurs fear being pushed out of business. “Inherently, it starts out being unlevel, because of the cost to operate a food service in a truck versus an established lease,” said Maggie Campbell, president and CEO of Partnership for Downtown St. Louis. While food trucks reflect the vitality of the neighborhood, Campbell wants to make sure their presence doesn’t end up hurting brick-and-mortar restaurants. “The most ideal outcome would be for food trucks to enjoy being downtown and have a strong enough customer base to invest in a storefront,” she said.

So there you go, regulation isn’t about public safety, it’s about protecting other businesses. Pi has two locations in the City of St. Louis and will open a downtown location at 6th & Washington in the Mercantile Exchange bldg (formerly known St. Louis Centre).

ABOVE: Sarah's Cake Stop vending at a recent event downtown

I personally love street food from carts and trucks.  I’ve purchased food from all four trucks pictured in this post, but I understand the need to have some regulations in place so it’s not a free for all (like valet parking).

ABOVE: The Fire and Ice Cream Truck is often on 9th Street in Citygarden

I recently started a Street Food STL list on Twitter to help track the growing number of trucks and other mobile food vendors.  The newest truck on Twitter is literally the oldest:

The Fire and Ice Cream Truck beat the food truck trend by a few years, quietly selling locally made ice cream from a rehabbed vintage fire truck along the riverfront. But now the truck has joined the fray, moving to a semi-permanent location on Tenth [Ninth!] Street between Market and Chestnut, in the middle of Citygarden (Ninth and Market streets; 314-802-9571 or citygardenstl.org). And it couldn’t be more perfect. (Riverfront Times)

The poll this week seeks to find out reader’s thoughts on efforts to regulate mobile food vendors. The poll is in the upper right corner of the blog, results will be published Wednesday June 29th.

– Steve Patterson



Endangered species: the sidewalk newsstand

January 23, 2010 Street Vending 6 Comments
ABOVE: Euclid & Maryland, June 2008

With demand for the printed newspaper decreasing I fear the loss of an already rare sight in St. Louis: the sidewalk newsstand.  You need content to have a newsstand.

ABOVE: NYC newstand in 2001
ABOVE: NYC newsstand in 2001

I love the colorful newsstands of New York City but I don’t know that we will ever have these in St. Louis.  For a long time a stand was located at 8th & Locust, but that went away a few years ago when the current plaza was built.  The benefits to the newsstand are numerous: creates activity, vendor can offer directions, sell snacks and water to pedestrians, eyes on the sidewalk help with safety.  They do require space but smaller versions than the New York example exist.

I want to see the printed newspaper and magazine survive if only so the newsstand will also survive.

– Steve Patterson


The new street food venders

December 17, 2009 Street Vending 12 Comments

The host of this site, Steve Paterson, has long been a proponent for more street vendors, and specifically hot dog carts, in downtown St. Louis.  I’ve always been a bit lukewarm to the concept, assuming that supply and demand is probably near equilibrium already, since several permit holders choose to operate now only on an irregular basis.  Still, there are types of street food that I see having some real potential, and that’s with mobile catering trucks, a.k.a. “roach coaches”, that have “evolved” into more interesting forms in other cities.

One format, that could work great at any of our local universities, has become established at Rutgers University, where their “Grease Trucks” have been both embraced by the university, both its students and the administration, and appears to be cranking out some good, affordable food.

On the other coast, gourmet dining has joined with Twitter to create a mobile gastronomic experience:

Portland’s bustling street-food scene may soon be rivaling the hawker centers of Singapore in terms of quality, scope, popular appeal, and value for money. In other words, the Pacific Northwest is doing for street food today what it did for coffee in the 1990s. Picking just eight venues out of the veritable sea of stands, stalls, carts, trucks, trailers, and even bicycles was a tough job-but hey, we’re not complaining.  (full article: Gourmet Magazine)

The infamous $16 pho. The $10 kaya toast that everyone loved but that I’m used to getting for less than $1 back home. These were all reasons I haven’t checked out Susan Feniger’s STREET until now. The concept is awesome. Street food from all over the world, all in one spot. In Hollywood. But one kitchen and how many countries? Can they pull it off? (full article: Gourmet Pigs)

Numerous restaurants in Seattle feature gourmet dishes prepared with local and seasonal ingredients. But only one serves its meals through the window of a 1962 Airstream trailer.

Skillet, a roving kitchen that stakes out different street corners during lunch hour, is known for a Kobe-style burger served on brioche with bacon jam, blue cheese and arugula. The locally and seasonally inspired menu continually changes, prompting customers to line up every day and debate between crispy ginger pork wontons accompanied by a sweet chili dipping sauce or Thai cured confit of duck with a coconut rice salad.  (full article: Forbes)

Even Denver has Biker Jim and his gourmet dogs.

The advantage that enclosed vehicles offer over open carts is primarily the ability to do more real cooking.  The typical hot dog cart keeps dogs warm and drinks cold.  Some assembly is required, but little culinary skill.  St. Louis also apparently allows our vendors to work off of portable grilles, which partially blurs the lines.  But to do real cooking requires running water, refrigeration and more control than just one gas or charcoal grille.  Plus, more than a few of us are suspicious of the sanitation any open location can maintain, day in and day out.

The two big challenges that these vehicles face are the impact on the urban environment (do we want one or more parked on Washington every weekend night?) and the reality that they “steal” business from existing brick-and-mortar restaurants with higher overhead.  Plus, like what happened at Rutgers, there’s a tendency for them to become non-mobile when they find a successful location.  Denver requires that they actually move on a daily basis, as apparently does LA, but with the ability to reach out via Twitter, it’s become a lot easier to find one’s favorite.

Personally, I think they’d be a great addition to St. Louis’ street and dining scenes – I’d like to hear what others think . . .

– Jim Zavist