Street Carts of Grand Rapids-The Impossible Dream

There are certainly many “quality-of-life” pet projects being promoted, nurtured, pursued, debated and in some cases, being implemented around west Michigan:

However, not a lot of discussion about creating a food vending,  street cart culture.  Maybe with good reason?
  • The weather. Can you imagine the cold and lonely days and nights in winter?  So, maybe they are seasonal…or so good that folks will hire as caterers.
  • The logistics. The red tape is not too bad.  I was able to get basic operational answers in a few e-mails from the city offices.  The health department will need a little love too, but if you are in the food business, and can keep things clean and sanitary, it’s not too bad.  Just need a certified kitchen.  Maybe a shared kitchen incubator?
  • The economics. Is there a high enough density of  people living and working in Grand Rapids to make these carts viable?  A little business planning and research would help here.  Can’t say yes or no.  (I know, if this was an opportunity, someone would be all over it all ready, right?)
  • The taste buds. Hot dog carts are around.  A few stray vendors on Monroe Mall.  But do Grand Rapidian’s have the palate to support food carts that feature unique, ethnic foods?
But as I look at my Don Quixote carving every day on my desk, I wonder if someday, carne asada, Korean BBQ, pommes frites with tarragon-anchovy mayonnaise and Bosnian pitas will find a home here.
From the September issue of Bon Appetit: Enjoy

The Art of the Street Cart

Portland, Oregon, is leading a delicious dining revolution. And it’s not taking place at restaurants—small trucks and mobile carts are serving a range of diverse, inventive, and budget-friendly food. Join us as we visit the carts and meet the cooks who are creating a new curbside cuisine.

September 2009

The Art of the Street Cart

Click through the slideshow to get the recipes >
Lately, the offerings of the humble food cart have been elevated from pedestrian fare to destination dining. Sure, it’s fast food, but without the corporate bondage and universal homogeneity. Ethnic ingredients, handcrafted dishes, locally sourced fruits and vegetables—today’s carts serve the best from around the world and around the corner, made right before your eyes.
The epicenter of this new foodquake is in downtown Portland, Oregon. Clustered in parking lots and on grassy embankments, mobile carts—like Monika and Karel Vitek’s Tábor street cart (above)—feature more than a dozen cuisines cooked to order in tiny interiors. These micro-enterprises are sprouting up like Monopoly houses—a recent survey counted about 170—amid a bustling restaurant and food artisan landscape. And the city makes it relatively easy to set one up: In addition to food safety requirements, rules for these carts specify that they be on private property, have wheels that are not removed, and be no longer than 16 feet.
The success of these meals on wheels is, of course, dependent on a population that will frequent them, and the people of Portland enthusiastically do just that. Huge boosters of locally sourced products and all things alternative, they’ll sooner scarf down a vegan burrito than a fast-food burger. Some carts, including several of Portland’s best, listed here, feature covered patios and tables, so customers don’t have to enjoy that Bohemian goulash or basil-gingersnap ice cream in the rain.
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