The Northland News has been bringing you reports on the North Kansas City Food Truck Pod controversy over the course of the last month. This last week the story was elevated to the national spotlight when the New York Times ran this article.
Tuesday night saw a packed North Kansas City City Council chambers for what many thought would be a vote on whether or not to maintain the controversial Food Truck Pod at Macken Park.
Mayor Stielow started the meeting by first asking City Administrator Eric Berlin to give an update on where things stood with the Food Truck Pod. Berlin stated that it was not the responsibility of the Council to make a decision on whether the pod would remain, and he had erred in some of his past communication on the matter. This fell under the responsibility of the North Kansas City Parks & Recreation Board. They will be revisiting the matter at the September 10, 2015 meeting.
After Berlin’s brief comments the Council began to take comments from the public on the matter. A total of nine people spoke at the meeting, the majority of which were in favor of the food trucks.
First up was Mindy Hart Davis of Essential Foundations for Business. Davis stated it was her observation that foot traffic had not decreased over the month of August, and that the car traffic had even increased by The Little Store. Davis reminded the North Kansas City Council of the re-branding of the city with the tag line, “Virtually Urban, Supremely Suburban.”
She said, “It’s tempting to let our personal relationships influence how we make our decisions. I implore you to consider the efforts and thousands of dollars that were spent to re-brand this city in making your decision.”
Next to speak was Shannon Buster. Buster works at Lutjen at 13th and Burlington. She said that her coworkers were very supportive of the Food Truck Pod having gone out to try the various trucks several times.
Buster commented on the perception that it is only certain groups of people that like the Pod. Stating, “I know the high school students…it is very popular with them. But less you think it’s just the high school students and middle aged yuppies who are interested in the Food Truck Pod. I think you all received an email from my mother who is 68 and still lives in North Kansas City and has for 30-some-odd years. She said to me, ‘I am for growth and progress, and excluding the food trucks seems like neither to me.”
Buster’s remarks appeared to be a reference to comments of Councilman Gene Bruns that were cited in the New York Times article on the Food Trucks. From the Times, “Gene Bruns, a councilman, spoke of food trucks attracting ‘the sort of yuppie set,’ and said some high schoolers ‘feel that these food trucks are a cool thing.'”
Later Buster referenced the fact that one of her favorite Westport restaurants, Port Fonda, started up as a food truck. Patrick Ryan, the chef at Port Fonda was recently nominated for a James Beard Award. The awards are often termed “The Oscars of Food.” Buster stressed the point that if one of those food truck owners are the potential next Patrick Ryan then you want them opening up the brick and mortar version of their restaurant in North Kansas City.
Buster asked the council to consider the message it is sending to new businesses in, “Is it we want your business in NKC, or is it we don’t like competition with our local businesses.”
Two weeks ago three North Kansas City High School students spoke during public comments at the North Kansas City City Council. Two of those students, Peyton Galloway and Madeline Keller, both seniors at North Kansas City High School returned to add additional comments.
Delivering short, prepared remarks from the screen of their laptop, Galloway stated “We believe an appreciation of tradition does not and should not exclude progress and growth. A student population of 1,600 students is willing to support many local businesses with our money. We are not asking for, or do we expect, the city to cater to our wants.”
Keller added, “We do ask for our opinions to be heard with the same respect that is given to other members of the community. In addition to going to school 10 months out of the year, many students live within the city and hold jobs here as well…It is certainly not our wish to harm businesses for the sake of something new, but having food trucks will be nothing but an advantage to North Kansas City.”
Chef Tito, owner of the food truck American Fusion and former owner of the brick and mortar restaurant Latin Bistro, spoke after the students. Saying, “We are coming to work. We are coming to steal nothing.”
Phil Shaver, co-owner of The Little Store and Cafe approached the podium next. Bringing levity to the room, Shaver introduced himself by saying he was apparently otherwise known as Lucifer due to the growing controversy that began with his public comments regarding the Food Truck Pod. You can see his original comments on our YouTube channel.
Shaver said, “I want to clear up a little bit of a misconception… I have absolutely nothing against the food trucks. Honestly, what I think they are doing is unique. I have never said nor have I implied that I want the food trucks to go away. When I first came to this pulpit, my only message was I felt like it was unfair where they were placed.”
Ron Bredemeir appeared before the council next. Bredemeir owns the food truck Helen’s on Wheels and the brick and mortar restaurant Helen’s JAD Bar and Grill. Bredemeir explained that he created Helen’s on Wheels to further expand his already successful brick and mortar establishment.
Bredemeir said that he committed to be at the Food Truck Pod every day during the month of August. During his time at the Pod he said the traffic from the teens was only 5% of the total business that had visited his truck. Bredemeir felt the Pod was very positive for North Kansas City.
Speaking on the issue of competition. Bredemeir stated that his biggest competitors were Rachel Kennedy, of Plantain District, and Chef Tito. “I welcome them being next to me every day.”
Bredemeir mentioned that Riverside has a Food Truck Pod. They are going as far to place hook-ups, water disposal, and restrooms. Saying, “It’s very impressive. Frankly, I’d rather bring my money to North Kansas City.”
Rachel Kennedy, owner of the food truck Plantain District and the person that actually worked with the city on the idea of launching the Food Truck Pod spoke to the Council for about a minute. Kennedy said, “I wanted to explain that the whole purpose we were seeking was to drive business to North Kansas City, definitely not to compete with people here.” She also told the council that her commissary kitchen is in North Kansas City, additionally she parks her truck in the city limits.
Only one person spoke in opposition to the Food Truck Pod. That was the owner of the North Kansas City Cafe (we apologize, he states his name in the video, but it is hard to make out). Telling the Council that he comes to the Council with “great reservation.” He told the Council, “You have to nourish the mom and pop restaurants like me and my wife. Very seldom we get, hey, thatta a boy, you did a nice job, you cleaned up, you complied with all the rules and regulations. I have a master degree in safety. Do you think all the food trucks will comply with the safety regulations?” Multiple truck owners in the audience loudly stated “yes” in response.
His comments continued for a couple minutes.
A few members of the North Kansas City City Council gave comments on the issue after the public comment portion of the meeting. The first to speak was Councilwoman Pearman.
Pearman said, “I have been a supporter of the Food Trucks from the beginning which does not mean I’m not a fan of some of our local restaurants…but, throughout this process I have not really said why I’m a supporter.” Giving prepared written remarks, she stated, “I have come to respect every single one of these council members. They care deeply about the city and its history…I would argue that the food trucks are really not the topic, this is really more of a topic about the new vs. the old, the push and pull of progress….In the wake of these new ideas and initiatives I think it can feel to those who have been in the city for a long time that the history and tradition are being challenged and tossed aside. These new ideas seem threatening and sometimes the future is not easily seen or understood…The Council’s in a position to shape this city and I think that can be a healthy blend of tradition and innovation.”
Pearman stated she was in support of continuing the Food Truck Pod through the trial period that runs until December. She also stated she would not support the council overruling the Parks and Recreation Board in ending the program prematurely.
Pearman continued, “We talk about North Kansas City’s market as if it’s one sized. And I believe the pie is just not this big. I believe the pie can be bigger.”
Councilman Clevenger added some comments after Pearman. Clevenger reiterated his position that there could be some kind of compromise. He also said he rarely hears from the citizens, but on this issue he heard from a lot of people.
Councilman Stewart also commented on the issue. Highlighting the fact that he had heard from a lot of people including a professor from the East Coast. Stewart stated, in response to Pearman that he didn’t think there was a mechanism to override the park board. He said, “I didn’t want anyone to think we were thinking of overriding our park boards. We just don’t do it.”
At the end of the Council member’s comments, Mayor Stielow looked over to Pearman and said, “I want to say everything you said.”
Updated 9/2 1:31 PM Added some clarity in third paragraph about City Administrator Berlin’s comments.