Food-truck task force looking at fast fixes for spring

With the warm weather rolling into Denver, can a fleet of gourmet food trucks be far behind? Last year, the truck trend took the town by storm — but by the end of 2010, things were looking stormy, with Sean and Denon Moore complaining that their Denver Cupcake Trucks had been grounded by bureaucratic roadblocks, and other once-mobile entrepreneurs charging that red tape had tangled their operations, too.

That's when Denver decided to create a Food Truck Guide, a new document that pulls together all the rules affecting mobile food vendors, rules currently scattered across a number of city departments, including Planning, Excise and Licenses, Public Works, Environmental Health, and Parks and Recreation. But at a January Denver City Council committee meeting where a draft of that document was first discussed, there was so much confusion that city councilwoman Carla Madison was volunteered to head a task force that would assess the status of gourmet food trucks in Denver and explore possible regulatory changes.

The group's first meeting was held last Wednesday at the Downtown Denver Partnership offices.

At the meeting were a variety of interested parties, including downtown reps and city officials, Pete Meersman of the Colorado Restaurant Association, and truck operators/restarateurs/entrepreneurs including Denon Moore; Josh Wolkon of Steuben's and Vesta Dipping Grill, whose Steuben's Food Truck helped set this fad in motion last June; and Jim Pittenger of several Biker Jim's Gourmet Dogs carts and, with any luck, a brick-and-mortar spot opening any day now at 2148 Larimer Street .

Although mobile food vendors are currently banned from the Central Business District (not including LoDo) except for areas along the 16th Street Mall, where vendors contract with the Denver Partnership, and in Skyline Park, where Parks and Rec allows some carts, most of the conversation stayed out of downtown itself. Instead, it focused on three areas for fast fixes: the stipulation that you can only have one truck per zone lot; the rule that trucks must be separated by 200 feet, even on private property; and the prohibition against vendors selling their wares after 9 p.m. While those rules might have made sense a decade ago, when the city last overhauled regulations affecting loncheras, they don't work with gourmet food trucks, which often congregate together in pods at lunchtime and at late-night parties.

Madison is optimistic that her group will be able to steer some changes through council, and soon. "I want to make sure this gets done by spring," she promises.

Just in time for gourmet food trucks to again descend on Denver. We'll keep you updated on the progress of those changes; in the meantime, look for the latest version of the Food Truck Guide on Cafe Society later today.

This piece was first published in Cafe Bites, our e-mail newsletter that goes out early every Wednesday; directions for subscribing are at the top of our home page.

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