City proposal would end late-night food carts downtown by 2023

MADISON, Wis. - Food cart vendors were surprised to learn this week that a city proposal would eventually prohibit them from serving food late at night in the downtown area.

At Madison's Vending Oversight Committee meeting Wednesday night, the city's Economic Development Division, the Madison Police Department and the city attorney's office introduced a proposal that would phase out late-night food carts downtown by 2023.

Meghan Blake-Horst, street vending coordinator for the city of Madison, said late-night vending has historically been a challenge. She said because people tend to congregate around the food carts, it creates a challenge for police.

But food cart vendors say they're not the problem.

"I think you need to ask the question of whether there's a correlation between the food carts and the violence or if there's a much bigger issue going on here," said Aaron Collins, who owns Banzo and serves in an advisory role on the vending committee.

Rocky So, who owns SoHo Gourmet Cuisines, served food late at night downtown from 2012 to 2016. He said he saw the occasional problem, but it was never anything severe.

"You can't blame the food carts for that," So said. "I mean, fights can happen in line waiting to get into a bar."

Currently, four carts have city permits to serve food late at night downtown. Two are on North Broom Street, one is by Frances Street Plaza and another is on North Lake Street.

A fifth vendor originally had a permit, but that license was revoked in December. In October, a food cart employee pointed an assault rifle at two men who were waiting in line at Leia's Lunchbox.

The vending committee is tweaking the food cart proposal and then plans to present it to the Madison City Council on Feb. 27.

The proposal would then get referred back to the committee, which will have a meeting on Feb. 28. Collins encouraged anyone who feels strongly on either side of the issue to come to the committee meeting.

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