Food trucks in Detroit will be able to expand their footprint thanks to an amended city ordinance. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, most of the food trucks currently operating around the city are on private property or are serving food in conjunction with an event, such as on college campuses and the like.
Starting April 30, 2022, licensed food truck operators will be able to park on most neighborhood streets throughout the city.
The intent, according to councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, who is behind the push for expansion, is, in part, to give wider food access to more neighborhoods in metro Detroit. “From an equity standpoint and from a food access standpoint, we believe food trucks should be able to operate in public spaces across the city,” Castañeda-Lopez told Fox 2 News earlier this month.
However, as the Detroit Free Press previously reported, some food business owners have taken issue with the new version of the ordinance, fearing it could hurt small business in the process; previously food trucks were able to operate in the city until 3 a.m., under this new ordinance they will only be able to operate until 11 p.m. It was not immediately clear why the timing had been changed.
Omar Anani owns Eater Award-winning Saffron De Twah restaurant as well as several food trucks in the city. “There’s a lot of politics that went into creating the new ordinance,” Anani tells Eater. “In every city there’s been a battle between brick-and-mortars and food trucks,” suggesting that the new ordinance could benefit brick-and-mortars more than food trucks.
He adds, “The one thing that food trucks need is foot traffic; there are a lot of restrictions with this ordinance in downtown...anyone who did any kind of late-night vending is screwed.” Anani, who pivoted his restaurant Saffron De Twah during the pandemic to serve 110,000 meals to hungry Detroit residents as Saffron Community Kitchen, is skeptical of the ways in which the new ordinance is being branded to help alleviate food insecurity. “It seems like a band-aid solution, not getting at the root of the problem,” he says.
There are other stipulations to the legislation, such as that food trucks will not be allowed on smaller streets — specifically, according to Crain’s, “only those [streets] with sidewalks at least 10 feet wide so pedestrians can still get around them.” Likewise, food trucks must park more than 200 feet away from a restaurant.
Castañeda-López has been working on expanding food truck presence in Detroit since at least 2015. That year, Eater reported that the city was working to create an official ordinance pertaining to food trucks, clarifying where the city’s food trucks would be able to park. At the time, Castañeda-López told The Detroit News: “Many food truck owners find it difficult to operate in Detroit even with a state permit because the city lacks a process and the infrastructure to support this industry.”
In 2019, Eater reported that Ann Arbor’s city council unanimously approved legislation regarding food trucks, where, at the time, the city largely lacked laws pertaining to mobile food businesses. Food trucks were able to operate on properties, provided they weren’t residentially-zoned. Back then, city council also terminated the 180-day expiration date on permits, which allowed food truck owners to run their businesses with fewer interruptions throughout the year.