Proposed restrictions on food trucks in North Mankato should be focused on the principles of free market competition, consumer choice and a fair playing field.
Food truck ordinances, like those in Mankato and elsewhere, are designed to keep food trucks in reasonable locations for health, safety and conflicts with brick-and-mortar restaurants.
North Mankato has proposed that food trucks be 750 feet from restaurants, far above the 100 feet Mankato requires. That distance seems excessive compared to Mankato but hasn’t seemed to have drawn the ire of North Mankato taxpayers or diners.
But another wrinkle in the ordinance would restrict existing bars that have no kitchen from bringing in a food truck to their parking lot. Under the proposed ordinance, the Circle Inn on Belgrade Avenue would be barred from bringing in a food truck because it would be within 750 feet of other restaurants.
Circle Inn owner Jeni Bobholz said on a live Facebook report that she has purchased a food truck.
Spinners Bar & Grill owner and North Mankato Council Member Sandra Oachs said she favors the 750-foot requirement and doesn’t think an exception should be made for any bar that doesn’t have a kitchen.
“Is it public policy to encourage mobile restaurants when we have so much empty space available (for restaurants and bars to open)?” Oachs said at a recent council work session. “If you want to get into the restaurant business, buy a restaurant.”
Oachs has a right to voice her opinion on the matter as part of public discourse, but according to conflict of interest guidelines set down by the League of Minnesota Cities, she should not vote on the issue.
A league legal memo states: “Any city official who has a personal financial interest in an official non-contractual action generally cannot participate in the action.”
Councilman Jim Whitlock also favored a strict ordinance: “The idea is to protect the brick-and-mortar businesses in the city.” They pay taxes and have made significant investments, he argued.
North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen and Council member Billy Steiner raised questions about restricting food trucks at places such as the Circle Inn. Dehen said he thought the ordinance was designed to prevent food trucks from outside the area setting up shop in downtown and hurting local businesses.
We would favor allowing places like The Circle Inn to be able to operate its own food trucks or bring others in. It seems fair and consistent with creating a level playing field. Cities have a right to restrict food trucks to certain areas or follow certain rules consistent with principles of the free market and fairness. Food trucks represent a different kind of investment than building a full-scale restaurant, and so it’s fair to restrict them to a certain degree, but an outright ban is unfair.
City Administrator John Harrenstein described the ordinance as one “with the goal of protecting existing restaurants from outside competition.”
The key word here seems to be “outside,” so allowing existing brick-and-mortar bars to add food trucks seems reasonable.
We urge the North Mankato council to consider reasonable business competition and a level playing field in approving a food truck ordinance.