SEASIDE — Let them eat cake — or tacos or fresh salads — whatever the creative chef can manage in a kitchen the size of a step van.
Fans and foes of food carts came to City Hall Monday for a workshop driven by residents who see an opportunity for diverse cuisine and a draw for visitors. Under city ordinances, all commercial businesses must operate within a permanent building, but food carts may be licensed on a short-term basis for charity and special events.
City Councilor Seth Morrisey, who moderated the workshop, said a food cart could lower the barrier to entry for entrepreneurs and give an opportunity to those who might not have the capital for a restaurant.
Seaside resident Matt Rose said he and his girlfriend love the idea. “They’re more of an experience for us,” he said.
Seaside Yoga’s Kristin Kabanuk said food carts offer opportunities for young entrepreneurs and could provide more choices. “For me as a business owner, we have very few health and wellness related businesses and eateries in this town,” she said. “It’s very hard to find a really good salad, a healthy smoothie. I’d like to see more options than fish and chips and chowders.”
Restaurant owners who attended the workshop largely opposed the prospect.
Doug Wiese of Dooger’s Seafood said there are already 75 food service establishments in Seaside. “I would suggest to this body that the restaurant pool in the city is stretched pretty far,” Wiese said. “Every person that stops in there and eats is one more meal that does not get taken sitting down in one of our restaurants.”
Tsunami Sandwich Co. owner David Posalski said employee shortages, limited housing and the short tourist season put brick-and-mortar businesses at a disadvantage. “Would it be great to have more varied businesses?” he said. “Yes. Would it be great to have more varied food options? Yes. Am I for it? No.”
He said opening food carts would be “destined to fail” and would not only hurt local businesses, but prove discouraging for cart operators. “For those of us foodies who want to see more options, let’s put more food festivals in the shoulder season,” Posalski said. “This is not about not wanting competition — it’s about preserving the resources the community has invested and supporting our neighbors, kids and charities with businesses that are going to give back.”
Wayne Poole, owner of Pig ’N Pancake, said that food carts drew people for the “short duration.”
“The rest of us are trying to make it on a year-round basis, and the rest of us need the busy times to make the money, to make it viable,” Poole said. “My concern would be a level playing field.”
Teri Carpenter of the U Street Pub was a dissenting voice among the restaurant community.
“I really don’t think food carts are going to put me out of business,” Carpenter said. “If they siphon off business, then maybe I’m not doing such a good job. My idea is if we make our town a better town, we’d do a better job. Let’s make Seaside a better town and the problems will take care of themselves.”
Morrisey said he sought a highly regulated framework like those in other cities, with a pod formula that could house a number of well-maintained and regulated food options.
“It would be year-round infrastructure,” Morrisey said. “If a private business owner wanted to put in a pod, that’s what I’d be looking at.”
Carts can succeed without taking business from sit-down restaurants, he added. “There are hundreds of people in town who would love to see food carts — under the right structure,” he said.
Reactions from other city councilors were mixed.
Mayor Jay Barber said any new rules should be crafted with input from existing businesses.
City Councilor Randy Frank, a former restaurateur, said he was “not a fan” of having food carts in Seaside, while Councilor Tita Montero looked to delay the discussion until after the busy summer season.
“It’s incredibly popular with the general public,” Morrisey said after the meeting. “Obviously restaurant owners are concerned, which I understand, but we’re just going to move forward and continue with a vote. But first we’re going to craft an ordinance that basically addresses all the concerns people have.”