Off the Rez has worked it out on E Pike (Image: Off the Rez via Facebook)
With Capitol Hill’s growing nightlife economy, one component of the scene that hasn’t grown to the same extent as the lines outside Pike/Pine clubs on a Friday night is that necessity of booze-y late-night carousing — street food. Answers have been mixed as Seattle reaches its first anniversary of enacting new laws designed to foster the entrepreneurial food+drink scene. Are things better? The party crowd at the Puget Sound Business Journal says, ho ho, Seattle street food is gaining speed. Slog says “yes and no.” The Great Broadway/Pike Hot Dog Cart Caper of 2012 says the city, at least on Capitol Hill, still has plenty of work to do.
Last year, the City Council passed legislation beefing up street food enforcement, while simultaneously easing regulations. The intent was to make vendors feel more welcome while also providing strictly enforced guidelines.
According to Erik Gus of Contigo, a food truck that specializes in modern Mexican cuisine, everyone is learning what the relatively new street food policy means.
Gus ran into trouble with the city when his permit for a spot at 11th Ave and Pike was taken away due to a miscalculation that placed the cart too close to a restaurant.
“I keep a tape measure in my car now,” Gus said.
“The city is learning just as much as we are about the codes, we’re all learning.”
One of the trickier policies for vendors requires the securing of a bathroom within 200 feet of the location.
“We’ve talked to businesses before and agreed to cook them free lunch in exchange for use of the bathroom. Some people just ask us to pay them for it. The bathroom agreement is hard to set up sometimes,” Gus said.
Exactly what a number of the policies are asking for is difficult to discern for some street food entrepreneurs.
“It’s a lot of homework and a lot of grey area,” Mark McConnell from Off the Rez said. “A lot of things are unclear.”
Despite all the shuffle, Gus said things have been mostly positive with the city.
Permits — worthy of celebration (Image: Contigo via Twitter)
“The city has been really great and accommodating — getting permits is just like any other process, if you’re prepared you’re fine.”
DPD Service Request #40571
“In the 80s up until somewhat recently, street food was considered something of a blight on the city,” DPD’s Gary Johnson said. “As we became a much more urbanized and cosmopolitan city, Seattle was noted for its lack of a vibrant street food scene.”
Johnson said at the same time street cart vendors doling out simple fare like hot dogs popped up all over the city, with one of the healthiest populations residing in the Pike/Pine corridor.
“We had very limited enforcement capability. Most vending that was happening was illegal,” Johnson said.
Which brings us to DPD Service Request #40571 — a story of how the new rules work and don’t work and the challenges faced by vendors trying to find a spot in the neighborhood.
“There is an unmarked hot dog vending truck which sells hot dogs to the drunk and drunker from the parking lot corner of the Shell gas station, located at Broadway and E. Pike,” begins an anonymous Cap Hillian’s complaint, filed with the Department of Planning and development earlier this year.
“The truck’s very, very close proximity to my apartment, and its unreasonable hours, coupled with the crowd noise, the smell of gas which permeates my apartment from their open gas flames, is why I need your help.”
The anonymous resident goes on to explain that the owner of the Shell gas station said he “didn’t know anything” about the hot dog truck. After some prodding, the owner broke down, ending the conversation with the tried and true “It’s my private property and I can do what I want” line.
According to city records, inspector Tom Bradrick was put on the case, which ended up generating “a lot of discussion with management, senior inspectors, and land use specialists,” according to one of the more straightforward remarks we’ve ever seen in the DPD complaint records.
The things is, techincally, the Shell owner was right. Kind of. Chances are, if you read an article about a new housing developments in the neighborhood on CHS, you’ll notice that they are sitting on top of retail space, being built around retail space, or putting new retail space in under the housing. Design-wise, we mix private and public space. That’s what made this complaint so tricky for DPD. The hot dog cart is technically in commercial space, but someone also lives right next door.
The email chain the complaint started internally at DPD bounces back and forth between most experts in the department. As Inspector Bradrick said, the whole gang got involved, “management, senior inspectors, and land use specialists.”
Ultimately, the cart was determined not to have breached any policy — but the email chain shows that reaching a verdict on street food policy in the city is still just as messy as a Seattle dog at last call.
Back on E Pike, Off the Rez has had an easier time of it.
“We figured out everything beforehand — bugged inspectors ahead of time to make sure we had things in order and flew through the inspection,” McConnell said.
Mark’s brother is Mike McConnell, founder of Caffe Vita, which made securing Off the Rez’s spot in the cafe’s Pike St loading dock easy. McConnell’s truck is on private property and has permission of the owner, allowing Off the Rez to bypass most of the city’s new permit process. Thanks to the city’s new code and a vital E Pike connection, Off the Rez has flourished on Capitol Hill and on its weekly visits to Fremont and South Lake Union. McConnell said he hopes to open a brick and mortar restaurant version of Off the Rez in the future.
The DPD mail thread