The food truck concept might be sweeping lunch hours across the nation, but it doesn’t seem to be the right thing for Brainerd — not yet anyway.
The Brainerd Planning and Zoning Commission will give Brainerd City Council a recommendation to deny a permit to Prairie Bay’s Side Dish Local-Motive food truck to operate within Brainerd city limits.
The food truck discussion is on the city council agenda for Tuesday.
Brainerd City Planner Mark Ostgarden said the planning and zoning commission didn’t elaborate on why it is making a recommendation not to grant a permit.
“They didn’t think it was right for Brainerd at this time,” Ostgarden said.
Prairie Bay is working with a number of area businesses, which could include the Westgate Mall and Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Baxter Clinic, in order to rotate the food truck to different sites for meals. The Side Dish truck offers a select menu, including soup, sandwiches and take-and-bake pizzas.
With the saturation of pizza and sandwich shops in the city of Brainerd, Prairie Bay Manager Nick Miller said the restaurant will make accommodations so that their truck isn’t serving the same menus found at nearby businesses.
“We’re not going to serve a pepperoni pizza in front of Mickey’s,” Miller said. “We want to be respectful of Brainerd businesses.”
Miller said he was disappointed in the decision from the planning commission. “It’s not the answer we were hoping for,” Miller said. “But now it just goes on to the next step.”
Miller said he spent Friday morning in downtown Brainerd talking to local business owners and sharing ideas on how they could make the food truck concept work in downtown Brainerd. He said he found a lot of support.
“It’s a very positive thing,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a good thing.”
Last week, Prairie Bay reached out to social media friends via Facebook, asking for thoughts on the idea of the Side Dish truck operating in Brainerd.
The response had more than 75 comments from Brainerd area residents who stated they would like to see the Baxter-based business allowed a permit to set the truck up in the city of Brainerd.
Miller said he and Matt Annand, Prairie Bay executive chef/owner, are talking with Brainerd City Council members, area business owners, Brainerd residents — people who “live, work, and shop in Brainerd” — to share their ideas on how a food truck might actually make downtown Brainerd better.
“We’ve gone out of our way to do this the right way,” Miller said. “We’ve been trying to show what the benefits are.”
Miller said he understands the concerns of those opposed to the food truck, but hopes through continued dialogue, those concerns might be laid to rest.
“Downtown is my downtown,” Miller said. “Matt (Annand) and I don’t see ourselves as a Baxter business — we are a Brainerd lakes area business.”
Council member Chip Borkenhagen said he hopes the council will wait to make a decision on the food truck until it can reach a decision that works for everyone.
“I think we have to take this one step at a time,” Borkenhagen said in a phone interview Friday. “We have to think about the big picture.”
The concept of a mobile restaurant is not a new one and something that is growing in popularity in other cities.
“It’s a problem across the nation,” Borkenhagen said. “Or depending on how you look at it, it could be an opportunity.”
Borkenhagen said the idea has the potential to add a lot to a community, “if the community is large enough,” he said. “If this were a big enough city, we could absorb the hit.”
Because food trucks aren’t brick and mortar businesses, they aren’t part of the city tax base and operate with a city permit — which some feel gives them an unfair advantage over existing businesses.
“If you don’t think it through and just carte blanche it, they can really put an edge over existing businesses,” Borkenhagen said, pointing out that there is a responsibility to protect the downtown businesses of Brainerd and issuing a permit without first setting some kind of parameters will ultimately hurt downtown tenants. “We are going to be jeopardizing our existing businesses.”
But Borkenhagen doesn’t believe no is the right answer either. “That’s not what the citizens want,” he said.
Borkenhagen, who was elected to the Brainerd City Council in November said one of his goals is help revitalize downtown Brainerd.
“I want to make it cool again,” he said. “I love Prairie Bay, and I like food trucks — they’re cool.
“There are ways to accomplish this.”
Borkenhagen said he will recommend the council continues the conversation and works to build better parameters, one being allowing businesses within 30 miles of Brainerd to operate a food truck in the downtown corridor. “We’ll never know unless we give it a try,” Borkenhagen said. “Let’s just see how it feels.”
Council President Bonnie Cumberland said the initial concerns regarding the food truck came from the language of the code and whether the Side Dish is considered what the code defines as a restaurant. “The question is do we change the word to the code to allow it,” Cumberland said Friday. “I think we need to look at this a little more.”
Cumberland said she had her own concerns about the food truck operating in Brainerd, but she is not opposed to continuing the conversation.
“I want to keep an open mind to this,” she said. “We’re not in a big rush right now. This is not just an impact on Prairie Bay — it could affect other restaurants and businesses in the future.”
SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.