Rochester's still wrestling with its downtown food truck ban

City regulations prevent food trucks from feeding Mayo Clinic's 30,000 workers.

City regulations prevent food trucks from feeding Mayo Clinic's 30,000 workers.

As some Minnesota food trucks prepare for winter hibernation, the battle over when and where they’re welcome in Rochester isn’t exactly going on ice. Following a summer of food truckers bemoaning restrictions that kept most of them out of downtown, the city opened a public survey last week in hopes of finding a compromise by next spring.

The 20-question survey asks if, when, and where the trucks should be permitted. The issue broiled over the summer after BB’s Pizzaria’s truck got pinched for setting up in a church driveway that was technically part of a city street. Rochester does not allow food trucks to park on downtown streets.

“None of us wants to have a repeat of that next year...” says City Council president Randy Staver. “That’s why we want to be proactive and get ready for next season.”

BB’s eventually returned to a portion of the lot that was clearly private property. But the incident prompted a July “Food Truck Summit” where business owners and would-be customers swapped ideas about how the trucks should be regulated. Staver says they will float the survey for three months or so before crafting revised food truck rules.

In the interim, that doesn’t do much for Donald Sanford. The owner of Don’s Crumble Beef runs his mobile sandwich shop all winter and would love to pull up by the Mayo Clinic’s main campus, which employs around 30,000 people.

“It’d be a golden goose to go down there and hunt,” he says.

Sanford says he was the first person to request a food truck license in Rochester. However, after three days on the streets he split for other towns.

“After I got the $300 license, they said ‘Well, you can’t go downtown with it,’” he recalls. “I says, ‘What do you mean I can’t go downtown? Well, where else do you want to go?’”

With access to Mayo’s legion of hungry medical professionals, Sanford estimates he could do $600-$800 in sales during a lunch hour. Instead he’s pulling half that while rotating between Albert Lea, Red Wing, and Dodge Center.

The fact that food trucks are antsy for downtown access isn’t lost on Staver. But he wants to do it in a way that won’t screw up traffic or hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants. The council prez expects an eventual deal will limit the hours and areas the trucks are allowed to park, including establishing a buffer zone between trucks and traditional restaurants.

“We’re very supportive of small businesses and the variety that would bring to our downtown area,” he says. “We just need to implement it in a way that isn’t harmful.”