City News

“We only sell food”: Vendors oppose proposal to eliminate late-night food carts

The Vending Oversight Committee recommended that by 2023, all late night food vendors be moved to Library Mall rather than be phased out completely. 

Image By: Max Bayer

Members of the city’s Vending Oversight Committee were met with harsh reactions Wednesday night when they took up a proposal to phase out late night food carts.

Opponents of the proposal argue food carts are consistently and unfairly the targets of reforms that are rooted in overconsumption of alcohol.

Mario Armenta, one of the four current late night vendors, doesn’t know what would happen if the vendors were forced to shut down.

“If they take away our place at night, what are we going to do? How are we going to support our families,” Armenta, the owner of Taqueria Sabor Queretano, said. “I think that it’s ... unfair.”

Fairness was a theme echoed by all four of the late-night vendors who were in attendance and testified before the committee.

“I think that the Vending Oversight Committee, as best you’re doing, is constantly punishing the food truck vendors for some reason,” said James Davis, owner of the cart JD’s. Davis has been a food cart vendor in Madison since 2007.

“Are y’all here to support the vendors or protect the vendors? Because I really can’t tell,” said Davis, who added the committee is constantly taking people out of places where they can make money.

Dan Kennelly, who oversees the food cart program within the city’s department of economic development said “late-night vending has historically been a challenge.”

But Davis said it wasn’t as bad as Kennelly and the committee were making it to be.

“There’s always going to be crime and getting rid of the four vendors is not going to solve it,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, Ald. Zach Wood, District 8, proposed an amended version of the ordinance change that, by 2023, would move all of the late-night vendors to Library Mall, however, the owners said since some of them sell the same food, such a plan would be a conflict.

Wood says the committee “has to take everything into account.”

“We tried to find a workable balance between addressing serious public safety concerns and the vending program itself,” he said.

The vendors instead suggested that lawmakers and the committee work to address the overconsumption of alcohol.

Paul Hernandez, whose father owns Little Chicago, says underage drinking is a significant contributor to the problem.

“Underage drinking, people at the bar letting younger students go in, younger people that are 17-years-old getting drunk,” said Hernandez. “They don’t know how to act when they’re drunk, they go outside, they want to fight the whole world.”

Lieutenant of Patrol Brian Austin said it is difficult to tighten local tavern policies because of state and federal alcohol laws.

Austin says controlling street vending is one of the few policies Madison can control and that officers who patrol the 600 block of University Avenue have observed the carts were an issue.

“All of those officers believe that the food carts, while not the cause, were certainly a considering factor of the density of the area and the problems that came with that,” Austin said,, adding the district staff for the Downtown Safety Initiative is operating at capacity.

Vendors also questioned why popular late night brick and mortar restaurants, like Ian's Pizza, weren’t also being questioned but authorities said they simply were less often a trouble spot.

Regardless of concerns regarding the concentration of the carts, the committee approved the amended legislation, which will go before the Common Council at their March 6 meeting.

The proposal will continue to place a temporary stop on the approval of new late-night vending licenses until 2023. The five year plan will also allow the city’s economic development department to create an official business plan for the new location.

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