Thursday, August 11, 2011

[Metromode] What Food Trucks Say About Ferndale

Last month in Concentrate, the Ann Arbor-based sister publication to Metromode, we looked at the burgeoning food truck scene in Ann Arbor, with the arrival of the new food truck courtyard Mark's Carts. We also looked at Portland, Ore.'s successful "pod" model, groups of food trucks located in semi-permanent positions on privately-owned lots. The scene has been so successful that there are now over 600 food carts operating in Portland, and they regularly make national headlines in food, travel, and business publications.

This week in Metromode, we look to Ferndale to see how feasible a food truck scene might be here, and what it means for the greater community.

In terms of urban cred, Ferndale doesn't really have any one thing that makes it extraordinary. When considering the amenities that typically make a community stand out - rich history, impressive architecture, unique cultural heritage, major museums, exceptional restaurants - the city struggles to distinguish itself. And yet, distinguish itself it does.

What makes this inner ring Detroit burb so attractive is its energetic commitment to developing a vibrant downtown, nurturing local entrepreneurship, drawing young professionals, and facilitating the creativity of its citizens. The nickname "Fabulous Ferndale" isn't just a tongue-in-cheek response to the city's growing LGBT population. It's become a mission statement of sorts. And unlike many local governments, the city has political and municipal leaders willing to embrace the changes necessary to meet those goals.

"Ferndale is easy to work with as far as the city goes," says Chris Johnston, owner of popular Ferndale spots Woodward Avenue Brewers (WAB), the Emory and the Loving Touch. "A lot of other places seem to have red tape for no reason... it should be a given to not get in the way of people who have a lifelong dream of doing something and are willing to put money up to do it. [It almost seems like] some cities watch you do things the wrong way just to say 'Oh, you did it wrong.'"

As if to drive that point home, consider the New Theater Project, an Ann Arbor troupe that was recently driven out of its small space because of zoning issues. Despite a year of performing and renovating the space, the city demanded $1,000 to apply for an exception hearing or move out. The company ended up relocating to Ypsilanti.

Someone says, "I have an idea" and Ferndale answers, "Let's make it work."

Recently a brand-new mobile food truck called El Guapo made headlines for becoming the first fully-sanctioned food truck in downtown Detroit. It only took 60 trips to City Hall to make it happen.

In Ann Arbor, where the city's mantra is "If it's not specifically permitted, it's forbidden",  Mark's Carts opened against all municipal odds. Given the constraints and requirements, it was the urban equivalent of lightning striking.

In contrast, two weeks ago the Ferndale Downtown Development Authority was approached with four applications for mobile vending permits (two push-carts and two trucks). Three out of four are already operating -- Underdog and Motor City Franks, both sidewalk hot dog vendors, and Jacques' Tacos, which is renting a space in the privately-owned parking lot of Ferndale Radiator. The fourth, another Mexican food truck called Taco Mama, is delayed only until an agreement on the truck's location can be reached and secured. Treat Dreams will also soon be operating an ice cream cart...

Read the rest of the story here.