Cafe Society

The food fight between Civic Center Eats and Colorado Fresh Markets rumbles on, but affected vendors are testing the waters

Three of the four mobile concepts caught in the crossfire of an ugly battle between two prominent markets appear to have worked out agreements that will allow them to continue peddling their gourmet treats.

Pinche Tacos, whose alter-ego is Tacos Borrachos, was back at Civic Center Eats under its new name today, serving gourmet Mexican fare to the crowds that are making this event a regular weekly lunch stop -- a crowd that today included Mayor Hickenlooper.

Dolly Omelet quietly came back last week, and The Biscuit Bus owners say they'll appear next Tuesday.

Last week, Chris and Michele Burke at Colorado Fresh Markets contacted the Conservancy to negotiate a possible solution, and Chris reiterated his resolve to find a mutually-beneficial fix.

"We are willing to make an exception to long-standing attendance policies to support activation efforts in Civic Center Park and the mobile truck/street food movement in Denver, both of which we are very much behind," he said in an e-mail sent to the Conservancy's Lindy Eichenbaum Lent and a group of public officials. "In return, we would appreciate recognition of Colorado Fresh Markets as an in-kind sponsor of Civic Center Eats. But this is just one idea. We are open to discussing any suggestions you may have."

In her response, Eichenbaum Lent echoed her desire for a positive resolution, but nixed the idea of an in-kind sponsorship at this point in the Civic Center Eats short season.

She went on to ask the Burkes to consider the burgeoning street food scene and the implications of their position on the issues -- noting that she's consulted attorneys.

The street food scene is rapidly growing in Denver, inspired by what is happening in cities like Portland and Austin. These food entrepreneurs have made significant investments in their mobile food operations that require them to maximize their visibility and opportunities to pay off that debt and grow their business. With an increasing number of vendor opportunities arising, there may come a time when CFM's overly-broad, overly-restrictive and legally questionable non-compete requirement hurts more than it helps. I would never attempt to give you advice on how to run your prosperous business, and I wish your events continued success. My issue is with CFM's efforts -- deliberate or otherwise -- to undermine our particular non-competing, non-farmers market event and by extension, limit our ability to raise funds supporting Civic Center Park.

At the end of the day, this is really an issue between CFM and the vendor community, an issue that easily could have been avoided. I say this not as a threat or to be antagonistic -- but in the spirit of full disclosure and the genuine desire for a mutually-beneficial resolution -- you should know that the Conservancy's attorneys are reviewing the legality of CFM's non-compete restrictions and its application against Civic Center vendors.

The vendors, who just want to sell lunch in peace, are sussing out their options. And there may be hope: One of the vendors said they hoped to come to a positive agreement with Colorado Fresh Markets this week, allowing everyone involved to go about their business.

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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk