You may have heard by now that food carts are all the buzz in some cities across the country. The one that probably takes the cake is Portland, OR, with over 500 scattered throughout the city. But a little bit of this craze is coming to Michigan and for good reason.
Mark’s Carts was the first true stationary “food cart pod” (a grouping of food carts) in Michigan, opening two years ago in Ann Arbor. With eight individually owned food carts serving a diverse array of food from early spring to late fall, it has proven to be a magnet for townies, the business community, and students who want to enjoy delicious local food and an informal outdoor communal seating experience.
But it’s not just about the food! Well, okay, it’s mostly about the food -- but it’s so much more. For the guests, it’s the whole experience of trying different foods in a casual outdoor setting with an opportunity for spontaneous social interactions. For the vendors, it is an affordable entry into the food business which can be an incubator to try out new recipes and marketing strategies and to develop a loyal following before they move on to a more permanent establishment.
That is exactly what happened to one very successful food cart called The Lunch Room. They tried out different fares on their vegan menu over the course of two years, ( while occasionally providing some musical offerings and food tasting contests as well). Among the favorites: barbecue tofu sandwiches, Pad Tai and their hard to resist cookies. Building on their success, they plan to open a more permanent restaurant in the Kerrytown area, one of the most vibrant gathering places in Ann Arbor.
It is just this sort of organic entrepreneurial creativity that not only positively impacts the local economy, but contributes to a community's unique identity and vibrancy, and emotionally connects people to their place!
Colleen Layton is Director of Policy Development for the Michigan Municipal League. She can be reached at 734.669.6320 or by firstname.lastname@example.org.