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StreetEatsColumbus.com Catalogues Street Carts

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Summer of the Street Cart continues onward, and as of today we have a local food blog to document it. StreetEatsColumbus.com was launched by Bethia Woolf, Andy Dehus and Jim Ellison, who are also behind the popular Taco Trucks Columbus and Alt Eats Columbus food blogs.

We recently caught up with Bethia for a quick Q&A about the new blog and about the rise in popularity of sidewalk food vending.

Q) You guys are already pretty busy with other projects, so what inspired you to start up another blog?

A) After we first started Taco Trucks Columbus people would tell us about other food trucks and suggest that we include them in the project. At that time (early 2009) we didn’t think there were enough other interesting street food options, so we put the idea on hold, but in the last few months there have been an explosion of new street food entrepreneurs (in part thanks to ECDI). We considered re-branding TacoTrucksColumbus to include all types of street vending, but it was a surprisingly difficult fit for some not-very-interesting logistical reasons. For a while, we posted new street food vendors on alt.eats, but between the number of new businesses popping up and the buzz we kept hearing about even more new vendors preparing to debut, we realized we had a distinct category that justified a distinct web resource. It seemed as though we were who people were looking to for info. The site is meant to be a resource for people to find great street food either to eat, or (because we get a lot of inquiries) for special events and private parties. We think there is some really great food on the streets of Columbus and we want to help people find it, and help to bring businesses to these micro-entrepreneurs.

Q) Do you see this street cart/truck trend continuing to grow over the next few years?

A) The Great Food Truck Race just started on the Food network last night, and so I think that will definitely fuel the trend of street food. The ‘gastro-trucks’ have been popular in cities like Portland, New York and Austin for some time and this trend is spreading across the country, so yes we expect it to continue in Columbus. Good street food seems to have become something of a benchmark for measuring the vibrancy of urban areas, and cities as close to us as Cincinnati have been working to accommodate them with that thought in mind. Beyond that, though, the explosive growth in street food vending also reflects the current economic climate – getting a mobile food vending business off the ground requires a small fraction of the capital that it takes to open a restaurant.

Q) I’m sure you still have plenty more to explore, but what are you three favorite carts at the moment that you’d recommend people try?

A) It’s hard to pick favorites. There are 5 of us contributing to the site at the moment and I am sure we would all pick different ones. It’s hard to compare Jamaican jerk chicken to a late night slice of pizza. My personal favorites are probably – Foodie Cart, Skillet and Las Catrachas but there are new trucks opening all the time.

Q) Are you in favor of The City of Columbus setting up some sort of special “food cart zone” where carts can easily set up, some tables and trash cans can be added, and people can easily locate their favorites and congregate?

A) We would like to see a food cart zone, but that is just one way that the city can be supportive of street food vendors. We also like that the food carts can cater to people in areas (and at times of the day) that are not well served by restaurants.

This quote from Portland’s mayor, Sam Adams, does a pretty good job of summing up our thoughts:

“The food industry is brutal. People open and close right back up. But we contribute by setting the bar of entry into the street food industry low. The regulations in other cities make it difficult for street food vendors to start. We [in PDX] try to stay the heck out of the way. Food safety is the most important to us, but otherwise we try to keep start-up costs low for the vendor and the licensing process under ten days. We want to do everything we can to help grow and foster our street food scene. As you know, we’re very focused on buying local and being local. So while we don’t subsidize these start-ups, we try to keep it free of red tape while keeping it safe.”

Q) Columbus has already got carts that server Japanese-style crepes, amazing BBQ, home made cupcakes and vegan hot dogs. What other types of food carts do you think we’re missing?

A) One of the most exciting aspects of these vendors is the tremendous creative freedom they have. I didn’t know I would enjoy Japanese crepes so much before Foodie Cart popped up, and so I guess my best answer to your question is to say that I’m looking for the next surprise! We do know there is a Vietnamese truck planning to open soon and we are looking forward to that and we would love to see a Yakitori truck. We are planning to help organize a street food festival and there has been a lot of interest and support for the idea. We encourage interested groups to contact us.

More information can be found online at StreetEatsColumbus.com.

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