Dining a la King: Will we see a new crop of food trucks?

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Photo supplied/The Wiener Shack

When it comes to getting a food truck operating, there are plenty of roadblocks.

It’s cheaper than opening a restaurant, but still takes investment, permits and cooperation with government folks.

The city of South Bend spent more than a year crafting an ordinance governing food trucks before the City Council passed it in September.

Sarah Heintzelman and Michelle Adams in the city’s Community Investment office spent more than 100 hours during 14 months on the ordinance, Heintzelman said.

They hope the effort results in new food trucks in South Bend this spring, Heintzelman said.

“We think by spring, with the interest we’ve already seen, we’ll have five by the end of the summer,” she said.

“Food trucks kind of fit into vibrant culture,” she said, adding that she hopes they become part of South Bend the way they are Austin, Indianapolis, Portland and other cities.

Food trucks can go to food deserts where it’s difficult to find healthy, well-made food in a neighborhood. They can offer vittles to the bar crowds that gather on a weekend night. And they often offer fun food, she said.

Heintzelman said the city worked with the St. Joseph County Health Department and city of Mishawaka toward a unified effort to permit and manage food trucks. The South Bend Fire Department also needs to inspect the trucks.

The health department inspects and licenses the truck to make sure it’s working from a commissary and can handle food safely. There’s more involved in inspecting and licensing a food truck rather than a hot dog cart because of the types of food prepared and sold. 

The city manages proximity to public restrooms and parking, Heintzelman said. The city became the clearing house.

“We kind of put all this together,” she said.

The effort in St. Joseph County includes a tracking system that will show where the food trucks are operating. That could help customers, but also the health department find the trucks to inspect them.

Though it’s odd to think of it this way, helping food trucks get started is economic development. With the growing interest in food trucks, roadblocks can mean a potential food truck operator goes to other cities or areas and does business.

Crowdfunded efforts like Kickstarter might help potential operators and the city might help with such an effort, Heintzelman said.

Eventually, Heintzelman would love to see food truck courts in South Bend where a collection of trucks gather. The city has gotten a lot of positive feedback for the ordinance and organization behind it, Heintzelman said.

Doug Murray, who operates The Wiener Shack food truck and hot dog cart with his wife, hopes the new ordinance helps, but is dubious about his ability to set up shop in downtown South Bend. Parking could be an issue and he’s leery of loading up a truck with food and then not finding a place to sell.

“It’s nice in theory,” he said of the ordinance.

Their truck has been in Goshen and Elkhart and they’ll head to Mishawaka or Granger next spring. Despite not having ordinances, so far those communities might be more lenient than South Bend, he said. Outlying areas of some cities work better than downtowns, he said.

Goshen has three or four regular food trucks that park on private property and sell.

“Unless you’re right downtown Elkhart or Goshen, you don’t really have a lot of restrictions,” he said.

Heintzelman and others in St. Joseph County got their ducks in a row, but the question is whether those are crossing the road and will keep food trucks from coming. I hope not. I agree with her that food trucks are just cool and part of what make a city feel more vibrant. If you want a great example of this, track down the feel-good food movie “Chef.”

Heintzelman said she hopes for a taco truck and a pizza truck. My wish list starts with a coffee truck and one that makes amazing sandwiches. By the way, the hot dogs coming out of The Wiener Shack are incredible. It came to the The Elkhart Truth parking lot once and is welcome again anytime.

I’m eager to see what springs up as those in government work to foster more food trucks. I truly hope there’s a new crop in the spring and can’t wait to see what develops.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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