A Chicken in Every Pot, or a Truck in Every Spot

This summer in Rochester, much of the "word on the street" was not involving DMC, or the evolving landscape of the downtown built environment, it was about food trucks.  More specifically their prohibition in the downtown central business district or on public land.  It sparked everything from a MoveOn.org petition, to a local Food Truck Summit to highlight the ongoing public debate of food trucks in Rochester.  

How I Feel About Food Trucks in Rochester *
Before reading this post, what option below most closely characterizes how you feel about this issue.

The Food Truck Summit was about highlighting the current situation and why it is all but impossible to operate a food truck in downtown Rochester.  It was not about advocating for a specific position, but rather to foster dialogue in the wake of recent news.  This whole topic came to a head with the widespread publicity over BB's Pizzeria's downtown food truck approval and subsequent denial....and subsequent reinstatement.  The City Council--the ultimate authority on modifying an ordinance--recognized the problem. Some elected officials wanted immediate change to the ordinance. The City Council President Randy Staver, didn't have any ideas to put forth, but he welcomed thoughts. So this forum provided an opportunity to supply them with ideas.

In addition to creating the characters for a moving three act play of an archetypal hero journey, it was kind of ridiculous.  What was the big deal?  

You see the existing ordinance for food vending on a public street was created back in an era where these proprietors were ice cream trucks, hot dog vendors and popcorn wagons. It was not during a time of literal mobile caterers that have grills and fryers. I know you might be shocked to learn this, but Rochester has not updated the food vending on a public street ordinance in quite a while.  And so new food trucks are left to navigate the old rules. Below are the restrictive measures included in 143A.08 (of note: E, F, G, and H):

A. An operator shall vend only when the food vending vehicle is lawfully stopped.

B. An operator shall vend only from the side of the vehicle away from moving traffic and as near as possible to the curb or side of the street.

C. An operator shall not vend to any person standing in the roadway.

D. An operator shall not stop on the left side of a one-way street to vend.

E. The operator of any food vending vehicle which traverses the streets of the city for the purpose of vending shall submit to the city engineer of the city prior to April 1 of each year hereafter a detailed listing of the streets on which vending is planned to occur. The City engineer shall approve or disapprove of the use of any such street or streets for that purpose within thirty days thereafter. In making said determination, the city engineer shall take into consideration factors such as the classification of the street, the amount and character of the traffic carried thereon, and any special hazards to the public which may be created by permitting vending activity thereon. A street not approved by the city engineer shall not be utilized by said operator for vending.

F. An operator shall not vend on a street within or immediately adjacent to any park or public facility maintained by the department of park and recreation, nor in the central business district of the city.

G. No vending activity shall occur between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. the day following.

H. An operator shall not vend in a single location for a period to exceed 15 minutes. For purposes of this subsection, a single location shall be deemed to be a place 500 feet or more from the last sale. 

Rochester is not the only community coming to grips with the changing demands of a more urban population.  The National League of Cities published a comprehensive report on the issue of food trucks to aid cities in overcoming the growing pains.  Their five step model is where we can start.  Design Rochester helped by creating a "town hall forum" to share ideas.

What we learned is that however complex the issue may seem, much of it comes down to a few minor issues.  The larger issue (which we will not debate) is over fundamental beliefs of fairness of competition and definitions of innovation.  But the information collected at the Food Truck Summit has been tabulated and is listed below:


  • Tough with traffic downtown
  • Trash / Cleaning
  • Adjacent to Mayo properties
  • Competition w/ Thursdays on 1st
  • Possibly increase fees to make more equitable
  • "Cluster effect" could hurt (or help)
  • Competition w/ bricks & mortar shops (size, proximity, taxes)


  • Lourdes - what's happening there?
  • Future UMR campus
  • Creative Salon parking lot
  • Kinney Creek Brewery
  • Anywhere where there isn't "road"
  • K-Mart parking lot, along 9th Street
  • County Campus @ RCTC fields parking lot
  • 522 6th Ave NW
  • Businesses w/ excess space/parking
  • People's Food Coop
  • Schools?


  • Mailing list of supporters to keep people informed. Can lead to advocacy
  • Rochesterfest at Soldier Field was a great example
  • May-Sep only, not year round problem
  • Create public acceptance first, then create demand
  • 11-2pm (M-F) food truck area (spaced out geographically), in designated spaces
  • Need to be next to a park (figure out a way to handle clean up)
  • Vocational groups or individuals w/ disabilities to help with clean-up
  • Don't let the ordinance stop you, build small, scale up
  • Ordinance should protect businesses/public
  • Only operate when other businesses are closed
  • OK for different roles (1) truck (2) brick & mortar
  • People enjoy summer outside in MN
  • Deposit for clean up expenses
  • Food options get spread out farther from downtown, opportunity for neighborhood building
  • All desserts after dinner needed
  • Need places to sit nearby (M-F)
  • One day a week, "food truck Friday"
  • Food truck offers low-risk starting point to lead to brick & mortar business
  • Petition list, email list, online presence

The above map was meant to spark debate about the location of food trucks. Certain areas of the downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods were highlighted as potential good spots (show in light red).  The large orange and blue squares were post-it notes that do not necessarily relate to a specific geography.


  • We need diverse food options downtown! Close to Mayo
  • Bring variety to Rochester! Allow food trucks!
  • Make it easier for food trucks!  Pro food trucks!
  • Perks: 1) more traffic to DT   2) more varied options  3) Vitamin D outside eating  4) Family friendly
  • Allow food trucks for growth in Roch
  • Rochester needs to support local business, food trucks should be aloud!
  • More food trucks will be awesome  I'm willing to help out.   [email protected]
  • Spin-off all existing Minneapolis food trucks
  • Why is it that the only late night "downtown" option for food is Taco Bell...LAME!  Put a food truck downtown after 10P or 11P -- sell out of food :)
  • Facebook Group that shows times/locations new trucks can join so others in Rochester know what's out there
  • Thanks for coordinating these efforts!  What would it look like to partner with parks?  Soldier Field?  Zumbro Lutheran lot?
  • We need more late night food options on the weekends!
  • Small local businesses are vital for the success and growth of Rochester.  A food truck may blossom, grow into a restaurant that employs more people, pays more taxes.  An example is "Foxy Falafel" in St. Paul began as a food truck and she grew to business (sp?)
  • Make Facebook page that posts summit location(s)
  • We have a fair number of local businesses, but they still come off "chain-like." For ex - the street w/ City Cafe, Newt's (1st) - does that look like a place full of local businesses? No.
  • Indian food (Naan, paneer)
  • How about food trucks parked on 3rd Ave SW, between 1st and 2nd street.  They can park during the day where the out of town buses stop in the AM/PM
  • GREAT IDEA - we want them!
  • If "brick & mortar" businesses don't keep up with changing customer demands that's their problem - food trucks are innovative & meet changing markets
  • Put a food truck in the IBM parking lot, now a Mayo park & ride.  Plus, IBM cafeteria is bad

The news covered the event and did a very nice job of summarizing the purpose and getting a general feel for the support.  Depending on your favorite source for local news, you can watch and read the full reporting on the Food Truck Summit below





Med City Beat

My Thoughts On Food Trucks in Rochester *
Now that you have read the article, heard the dialogue, and seen the information tabulated, what are your thoughts on food trucks in Rochester?