You know, if I were a city politician in Detroit, I’d be working like hell to make the city as business-friendly as possible.
Yet . . .
Jeff Aquilina and partner Justin Kava — chef veterans of Matt Prentice’s restaurant operations — were inspired by effusive magazine articles, like one in Time last year, that described how gourmet street food sold from mobile trucks had become a multimillion-dollar business in Los Angeles. But when they revved up their $60,000 kitchen on wheels on the streets last month, they soon discovered that “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” in Metro Detroit were empty words when it came to selling fried pickles (“frickles”) and a Southwest brisket taco served in a crisp won-ton shell with yellow tomato salsa for $6.95.
Licensed by Wayne County, eager to pay fees and follow rules, the pair quickly hit a wall of regulations and resistance, including Detroit ordinances that essentially ban mobile food operations from anywhere near the downtown stadiums or central business district.
“They’re basically not allowed anywhere,” says Chris Gulock, a staff member now drafting a new ordinance for the city’s planning commission.
The rules prohibit even a fully inspected and licensed restaurant on wheels from public and private property in Detroit, as the law has been interpreted . . .
Restaurant owners, who are invested in fixed locations and costly operations, are loath to welcome mobile trucks that can scoot in for events and wheel away when business gets slow.
Detroit’s planning commission will hold a public hearing on the issue at 5 p.m. Thursday at Focus: HOPE. But an ordinance change will take two or three months at best, says Gulock.