Immoveable Feast

Seattle’s street food vendors may finally get a break.

By Jessica Voelker May 17, 2010 Published in the June 2010 issue of Seattle Met

KURT DAMMEIER, WHO DOLES out gooey cheese-covered pasta at his Pike Place cheese shop Beecher’s, also serves up fairly spectacular barbecue from inside Maximus/Minimus, a souped-up taco truck adorned with pointy ears, a pig snout, and, on bright days, a pair of sunglasses. Since 2009, Dammeier has sold sandwiches and slaw out of his porcine truck, most often at the pedestrian-packed corner of Second Avenue and Pike Street.

The struggle to keep Maximus/Minimus in pork, says Dammeier, comes down to rent. Like the people of Portland, who enjoy about 500 different mobile food vendors, Seattleites will (and do) line up for gourmet grub served streetside, but our mobile food laws remain strict: Only carts selling espresso, hot dogs, popcorn, or flowers can park on public property. Trucks like Maximus/Minimus are restricted to private property, and they must pick locations carefully to ensure a crowd. The parking-lot owner sets the price.

“These are tiny businesses,” says Dammeier, who sells about five or six hundred dollars worth of food out of his truck per day. He says he pays a premium to park at his downtown perch.

Gary Johnson of the Department of Planning and Development feels his pain. He’s hungry to ease the city’s street-food laws to look more like Portland’s. Johnson’s proposal, to be presented to the city council, would create a permit system wherein the Seattle Department of Transportation authorizes trucks to park in special city parking spaces zoned for food sales, much like the street-food squares that have popped up all over P-town.

Sounds like a plan. In early April, however, when Johnson ran the idea by the Pioneer Square Preservation Board, he encountered furrow-browed business owners and question-hurling residents who worried food carts would obscure their storefronts and fill their streets with trash. One woman complained that sidewalks in her neighborhood were already congested with pedestrians on game days—which is exactly what makes that neighborhood the perfect spot for food trucks in the first place.

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