Number of food carts down for second year in Madison, according to 2019 city review

If the city has its way, you'll see more in 2020

It’s no secret Madisonians take pride in their expansive local food scene. From fancy restaurants run by nationally recognized chefs to beloved food trucks parked outside the farmers’ market Saturday morning, there are plenty of options from which to choose. But lately, there have been fewer of them.

The number of food carts is down in Madison, according to the city’s annual food cart review released just this month.

It’s the second year in a row the city has seen a decrease in the number of carts participating in the annual review, which is a requirement for those wishing to vend on the Capitol Square or Library Mall.

Last year, 53 carts applied, and 49 completed the review. This year, 51 carts applied, and 43 completed the process. In 2017, a record 63 carts completed the review.

It’s not all bad news for Madison’s food cart scene: the number of new carts is up from last year’s low of two. Five new carts finished the review: Pete’s Pops, Fancy Roll, Cedar Road Meats, Latino Express, and Sabor Regio. Madison hit a high of 19 new carts in 2016.

The main purpose of the annual review is to determine the order in which the carts choose their spots for the next vending season. The 32 reviewers are volunteers from the Madison area.

Because there are 45 Mall-Concourse vending spaces and only 43 carts finished this year’s review, there will be no waitlist.

“The demand to vend downtown outweighed the locations available, and for many years there was a waiting list of vendors that wanted to vend downtown,” said Meghan Blake-Horst, street vending coordinator for the city of Madison. “This year there will not be a waiting list and all interested vendors will be assigned a vending location. The supply now equals the demand.”

“The major challenge I have seen from mobile food vendors and restaurants is that there is a staffing shortage,” Blake-Horst explained. “Many operators cannot keep staff and struggle to grow because they do not have the capacity.”

This trend isn’t unique to Madison, according to Blake-Horst, and is an ongoing, industry-wide challenge.

According to the 2019 review, the top 10 carts are:

1. Braisin’ Hussies

2. Surco Peruvian 1

3. Taquitos Marimar

4. Common Pasta

5. Luang Prabang Lao Thai Food

6. Banzo 2

7. Caracas Empanadas

8. Good Food 2

9. Curd Girl

10. (Tie) Bulgogi Korean Burrito and Banzo 1

Now, the city of Madison is working to increase the opportunity for vending outside of downtown.

“I think there has been, and still is, a perception that the Mall/Concourse is the only place to be if you are a food cart operating in Madison,” Blake-Horst said. “This is far from the case. While the Mall/Concourse may have the highest lunchtime pedestrian traffic, we are seeing Madison grow rapidly and the demand for vending outside downtown increase.”

As of October, food trucks are now allowed across Madison, outside the city’s high-density areas and the typical Monday through Friday “lunch rush.”

The hope is that, soon, the number of food carts citywide will once again increase.

“As of today I have talked with over 100 interested food cart operators,” Blake-Horst said. “These inquiries come from entrepreneurs in all stages of business development. Some have already purchased a truck or cart and are moving into the licensing phase, and some are just kicking around the idea.”

Madison College has a class that reviews what vendors need to do to run a successful mobile food business. Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Cooperation offers workshops on starting food carts.

Number of food carts down for second year in Madison, according to 2019 city review

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