No soup for you: Aspen City Council says no to food trucks
Majority of restaurant owners say they are not interested in additional epicurean amenity
Aspen City Council this week agreed to abandon any notion of food trucks in town this summer, as there is no appetite from existing restaurants to set them up.
Council had asked city staff last month to pursue some “high level tactics to support downtown restaurants during the pandemic summer 2021,” Phillip Supino, the city’s community development director, said during a Monday work session.
But based on a survey conducted by the city, as well as the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the overwhelming feedback is that there is not sufficient interest by existing restaurants to operate food trucks.
“Given the other demands for staff’s time, and frankly other demands for business owners’ time and attention to be effective this summer, staff didn’t feel like it was a good idea to pursue it,” Supino said.
City staff focused only on current restaurant operators within Aspen so as to not create competition in an already difficult business climate during COVID-19.
Many restaurant operators said it’s too expensive to operate a food truck in addition to their brick and mortar storefronts and they are busy enough, particularly if they are occupying public right of way space for outdoor dining, which is an offering by the city to help mitigate impacts from capacity limitations.
There were fewer than a half dozen restaurateurs interested in operating a food truck when surveyed by ACRA.
That was enough for Council member Skippy Mesirow to want to try it, although he was in the minority.
“If we’re going to treat the decision to lower barriers to entry to business and food sales as a poll for those who are already advantaged with a storefront, it will simply never happen,” he said. “If this is just intended as an additional benefit to the restaurant community, that makes sense but if this is intended as a benefit to the entire community that lives here, all 8,000 of us and the many hundreds of thousands that visit, I think we got to take a wider scope and if we’ve got some that are interested, starting from somewhere is better than starting from nowhere.”
A public survey that the city conducted on aspencommunityvoice.com regarding summer activation during COVID-19 showed that 124 people out of 205 respondents favored food trucks. Fifty-two were against them.
Comments ranged from food trucks shouldn’t be linked to restaurants; that more affordable food options are badly needed; and others said they would create unfair competition if they were outside businesses.
Council member Ann Mullins said she has seen food trucks be successful in other cities and they provide a different type of service than sit-down restaurants, but if local businesses are against them, she supports that position.
“If the restaurants aren’t supporting it, even if one or two do, I think it would be hard for staff to make it work,” she said. “I hope we can continue to look at this in the future because it is a good way to provide yet another type of food service.”
Mayor Torre said while council would love to support food trucks because they are neat amenities, the timing is not good right now.
However, there are opportunities in the future at places like in front of the skate park at Rio Grande Park or in Paepcke Park.
While food trucks may be popular in other parts of the valley that have larger populations and geographical areas than Aspen, local officials are having a difficult time attracting proposals for an operator at the Brush Creek Park and Ride, according to David Pesnichak, transportation administrator for the Elected Officials Transportation Committee.
He told council on Monday that he did not receive any proposals during the solicitation period between the beginning of February and March 12.
“We’re still looking for a food truck or farm stand proposal for this coming summer,” Pesnichak said, adding the amenity might have to wait until 2023 because next year the park and ride will be under construction for infrastructure upgrades.
“Hopefully the pandemic is well in our rearview mirror at that point,” he said. “So I don’t think this is the end-all-be-all if we don’t get a vendor this summer but we are still trying to find one.”
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.