MUSCODA - Over twenty people gathered for the Ad Hoc Committee meeting to draft an ordinance on regulating outdoor food stands and mobile food units, at the Kratochwill Memorial Building, last Wednesday, April 21.
During the previous week’s regularly scheduled monthly board meeting, Dan Behrens spoke before the board concerning food trucks coming to Muscoda. The particular food truck that sparked the discussion belongs to Jose Parra of Jose’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant of Baraboo.
In the previous meeting Behrens, who was appointed chairperson of the Ad Hoc committee which was created to develop ordinance for food trucks,, referred to food trucks as “parasitic” businesses. Saying “He (Jose) moves into small towns with little businesses, takes what he can and leaves.”
Parra was present at the meeting and stood before the committee and community members to share his feelings.
“I come from a small town in Mexico and I’ve worked really hard to get here. I employ many people, not just Mexicans, and when the pandemic came I didn’t want to have to let them all go, so I tried to come up with an idea that would keep my guys employed and that is how the food truck business got started. I currently go to 28 different towns, and we don’t come here to rip people off. We are here once every couple of weeks. We are trying to do something good, bring fresh good food to the community. And this is the only town doing this to me. I’ve been in Baraboo since 2007 and I am part of my community there. When someone comes to me with cancer or something and asks if I could donate proceeds from my restaurant, I don’t just do 50 percent one day, I do 100 percent of my sales. And that is the kind of attitude I want to bring to every community. It’s not as easy as you think to get up at 4 a.m. and cook food and bring it to the different communities. But I would love to work with your city, I would love to come and help in any way I can. We are good people. We are not here to take your job!” At this point, a woman who accompanied Jose to the meeting shared that so far, he has donated nearly $500 to the upcoming Morel Mushroom Festival.
“We are well aware Muscoda enjoyed the experience,” Said Behrens, “but the problem is, it’s so unregulated. There is the use of taxpayer expense areas and if anyone doesn’t think that’s a bad idea for local places to be public enterprises, they just don’t understand.”
In response, another citizen in attendance stood up and shared “I’d like to see more of these people (those operating food trucks) I want to see a Thai Food truck, a pizza truck, any kind of food truck, we want this in the community! We say we’re here because of no law or rules but having the monetary discussion is really what it’s about. If it wasn’t, would we really all be here? I just hope that (the food truck opportunity) doesn’t get taken from the village. I hope we keep everyone’s interests here.”
Later in the meeting, Tom Nondorff, Commander of Leslie J. Lee American Legion Post 85,echoed this sentiment.
“We can’t just shut down outside people,” Nondorff expressed. “We drive on Main Street and our streets are empty. We need to be trying to grow this community. Someone coming to these food trucks isn’t just going to stop at his truck, they’re going to stop for a beer here, or to get gas here too. We gotta think of it as a community aspect. We gotta make our community grow and flourish and think about what works best to get people into our community. The community comes first and whatever is done I hope is done in the interest of the community!”
During the previous meeting City Attorney (who was not present during Wednesday’s Ad Hoc meeting) noted that the issues around creating ordinances for food trucks have proven tricky in other communities, such as Platteville who eventually abolished their Food Truck related ordinance altogether.
There was concern and question over how many different food vendors could be viewed and affected under this new ordinance.
“This will not affect nonprofits,” Behrens expressed to Nondorff who shared his concerns over Burgers in the Park being affected.
“If we’re gonna do this we want to do it right,” Village of Muscoda Chief of Police Bill Schramm said.
“Maybe the conversation is how many permits we would be allowed to issue, when they could be used, and what is the cost,” Behrens questioned. “That is the nuts and bolts of what we’re doing isn’t it? Many people seem in favor of two permits a month for however many vendors, but that just doesn’t seem sustainable.”
“I don’t think there are many people who are going to come here and do what I’m doing,” Jose expressed. “If someone else comes in, I will quit.”
Schramm shared that the amount of other days that are allowed in different communities varies vastly. Using Prairie du Chien as an example, which allows mobile food vendors to visit up to 90 times a year.
Behrens noted that other communities like Highland and Boscobel asked that the truck only visit on certain days when things are slower for the local brick and mortar establishments, however, it was pointed out that these were simply requests and not changes of ordinance or laws.
As discussion continued about the amount of visits per month and year that would be allowed in the ordinance, members of the community who seemingly came in support of food truck visits, became visibly and at times verbally disgruntled.
“We want the food trucks here! It’s business! It’s free enterprise! It’s America! Why take food away from people?!”`said one citizen.
“We will travel wherever you set up even if it’s not in Muscoda!” another directed towards Jose.
“Can we pick a day of the week that is slow for our restaurants and food trucks that can come only that day or days?” suggested Village Clerk Cinda Johnston.
When asked, Jose shared “I want to come two times a month. I want to make a little money, keep people interested in my food, but I’m not trying to hurt anyone.”
“The question becomes, how are you going to stop the next person from coming?” Behrens questioned.
Another citizen noted to the committee that around the Muscoda area, finding a place to eat out at Monday and Tuesdays is extremely difficult without needing to travel very far. The comment resulted in an eruption of murmurs from attendees.
Other situations, like Mennonite families selling food and baked goods, auction food trucks and the like were also questioned and it was ultimately decided the committee would need advice from Ben Wood, village attorney.
It was however drafted and agreed upon at the end of the meeting with the committee that the ordinance will include the ability for the city to sell two permits per month valid only Monday through Thursday, per vendor at $20 each. Vendors will not be allowed to set up on Wisconsin Avenue or West Front Street. And they are only allowed to operate during park hours. Additionally, there will be clarification made on several topics including handling situations involving operating on private property. This has not been made official yet and was pending review by Wood as the village’s attorney.. .
Schramm also noted to those present at the meeting that this ordinance is still a work in progress and will require discussion with the city attorney, another meeting and time for publication. It will not be effective until potentially mid May, at the earliest.
To conclude the meeting, Jose stood before the crowd and pledged $2,000 to the village to be used as they see fit, which elicited a round of applause from many in attendance.The next meeting of the Ad Hoc committee will be held on Wednesday, May 5 at 6 p.m. at the Village Hall. The meeting is open and anyone is welcomed to attend.