Food truck feedback: After first year with revised city mobile vendor license in Cedar Rapids, vendors and officials take stock

Kelli Evans serves a customer at the Grateful Crepe food truck on Second Avenue SE at Third Street in downtown Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 13, 2016.  (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Kelli Evans serves a customer at the Grateful Crepe food truck on Second Avenue SE at Third Street in downtown Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, April 13, 2016. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Phoebe Rios is looking forward to March, when warmer weather brings hungry people outdoors to find local food trucks.

She isn’t looking forward to renewing her mobile food vendor license, which at $550 a year, seems too expensive to Rios, considering all the other expenses of operating the Rio Burritos food truck she opened in 2016.

“As a food truck owner, I must pay for insurance for my truck, business insurance, a health license and a fee with the fire department,” said Rios, of Cedar Rapids. “I think the license with the city is pretty pricey in connection with everything we have to pay for.”

Cedar Rapids’s mobile food vendor ordinance was adopted in June 2016 to regulate how food trucks, stands and carts operate. The rules, retooled last year, prohibit mobile food vendors from operating between 2 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. and within 100 feet of a restaurant entrance.

They also set standards for parking, trash cleanup, noise and fumes.

The new rules came with new fees, up from $150 to $300 a year in fiscal 2016 to $550 a year last year for all mobile food vendors.

The city collected $12,870 in licensing fees from mobile food vendors in fiscal 2017, nearly triple the $4,300 that came from this category of vendors in fiscal 2016. The fees were set based on the cost of processing applications, issuing permits and addressing enforcement issues, such as parking or noise violations.

There were 28 mobile food vendors, including 24 food trucks, licensed in Cedar Rapids in fiscal 2017, compared to 19 in 2016.

Is the price right?


The new licensing process was intended to make it cheaper for food trucks and less time-consuming for city employees, Cedar Rapids City Clerk Amy Stevenson said. Vendors now pay for each vehicle, not each location, which is good for food trucks that move to find more customers.

“It was getting expensive for vendors because we used to license per location,” she said.

Oupekha Baccam, owner of the Street Food Fighter food truck, said Cedar Rapids’s mobile food vendor ordinance is clear and the fees fair.

Andrew Mercil has a six-month license for his Mahalo Dog food cart, which he usually operates just on weekends.

“I’m not sure I’m taking full advantage of what I could with that license,” Mercil said. “It does seem to be a pretty fair price. It takes weekends of operating, to pay off the ($300) price of licensing.”

Jason Spangler, who has operated a Fruitzen shaved ice stand in Cedar Rapids since 2002, said the new fee structure favors food trucks over stationary food stands. The Fruitzen stand, which sits in the Hy-Vee parking lot near Lindale Mall on Collins Road NE, is considered mobile because it can be hauled on a flatbed trailer, but would be impossible to change locations daily like a food truck, Spangler said.

Spangler’s licensing fee went up from $200 a year in fiscal year 2016 to $300 for six months in 2017. The city also stopped offering a one-day license for $20, which Spangler used in the past for fundraisers and other events. Now there is a one-week license for $100.

“I had to eat $200 last year,” Spangler said, for one-day events that didn’t make much money.

Vendor feedback


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Rios gets a year-long license for Rio Burritos, which sells burritos, tacos, quesadillas and desserts, but business is slow from November through February.

“The city has done a really good job making sure the patron is taken care of as well as the business owner,” Rios said of the Cedar Rapids mobile vendor ordinance. She loved the Food Truck Friday events held last summer in Greene Square.

But “there are definitely things that can be done” to make the process better, Rios said.

In addition to lowering the licensing fee, Rios would like the city to post a list of licensed food trucks online. That would allow her to make sure her competitors are paying the same fees and give her a list of licensed trucks to suggest to host sites that might ask her for recommendations.

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance gathered mobile food vendors last fall to see how the first year went.

There were some questions about a provision that limits vendors to one street parking spot, even if they use a truck to haul a trailer, said Bill Micheel, assistant director in Cedar Rapids Community Development, who sat in on the meeting.

This was one part of the ordinance designed to protect business owners who don’t want all the street parking in front of their stores or restaurants tied up with food trucks, he said.


Bryan Bredman, co-owner of Pub 217, would like to see food trucks kept further away from downtown restaurants.


“From an entrepreneurship standpoint, I’m all for it,” Bredman said of food trucks. But “we prefer they not be in an area where there are brick-and-mortar restaurants.”

Bredman would like to know whether any of the mobile food vendor license fee goes to the Central Business District, which helps pay for trash removal downtown. He’d also like to see the Metro Economic Alliance advertise for stationary restaurants as they did last summer for Food Truck Friday.

No money from the mobile food vendor licenses goes to the Central Business District because the trucks change locations, city officials said.

Casey Prince, downtown executive director for the Metro Economic Alliance, said the organization created Facebook invitations for Food Truck Fridays in 2017, but that it also promotes local restaurants through its “Dine. Dwell. Do” website and by sharing Facebook posts by downtown restaurants, among other things.

Jason Streit, co-owner of the Lost Cuban restaurant, said he likes the food trucks downtown.

“The first day they had their food trucks at the park (last summer) was one of our busier days,” he said. “Competition is a good thing.”

Food trucks licensed in Cedar Rapids in 2017

Boulevard Grill

Box Lunch

Caribbean Kitchen

Chef Aubri

Dizzy Daddy BBQ

Fabian Seafood Co.

Flip N Shop

Grateful Crepe

Hungry Rooster Catering Co.

Jays Philadelphia Water Ice

Keepin’ Up With the Jones’s Mobile Catering

Kona Ice of Cedar Rapids

MZ B & the Boys

O’s Grill

One more Bite

Pacific Bay Cafe

Polar Bird Peppy’s

Rio Burritos

Rubes BBQ

Scratch Cupcakery

Stan’s Ice Cream

Street Food Fighter

Woolf’s Lunch Box


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