City officials will soon decide where and at what cost food trucks can operate in Traverse City, but one new downtown business is already opening its doors – and parking lot – to local transient food vendors.
Gary and Allison Jonas, owners of Brooklyn hot spots Sycamore and The Farm on Adderly, recently relocated to Traverse City with a dream of contributing to the area's rapidly growing foodie scene. University of Michigan graduates, the couple was inspired by their travels to food truck-friendly cities like Portland and Austin, and believe a street food model could work well in Traverse City.
This spring, the Jonases will open a full-service bar at 448 East Front Street, formerly home to Jack's Market. Rather than building a traditional bar kitchen, the couple plans to open their parking lot on a year-round basis to up to five stationary and rotating food trucks, who will serve up their wares to hungry patrons.
Customers can bring meals inside and enjoy them over a cocktail or beer, or simply sidle up to the bar for a beverage. During the winter, heating lamps and food runners will help the trucks stay operational even during cold weather – traditionally a challenging season for transient vendors. Electricity, sewage, trash and other services will be provided to allow stationary trucks to establish permanent roots on-site.
“We love the food truck culture, and we also love our neighboring restaurants downtown,” says Allison, noting that customers will also be able to bring in food from other nearby eateries, such as Bubba's and Paesano's Pizza. “It was important to us to support both with our business. We also appreciated Jack's when it was open, so we've adopted part of their model and will be offering variety six-packs of beer to go.”
Gary says the bar, which will be open from lunch to midnight, is designed to to be welcoming to a diverse range of patrons. “At Sycamore in New York, we'd see families and older patrons come early in the day. Then maybe late at night, there would be a younger crowd out for drinks with friends. We want that here in TC – for everyone to feel included. You'll see that reflected in our drinks; you can come have a cheap beer, or you can order a well-made cocktail.”
The Jonases also plan to hold occasional special events on-site, such as live music nights. A third of the parking lot is being converted into an outdoor dining and beverage patio, and the indoor dining hall will feature glass garage doors that can be rolled opened during warmer months. In spring and summer, Allison says the business may host an outdoor Sunday flea market to encourage people to come downtown on the traditionally slow business day.
Food trucks have become a hot topic of conversation in Traverse City lately, thanks to a hike in fees enacted by city officials in 2012 that doubled the daily rate for food trucks from $50 to $100 a day in the downtown district. The ordinance has received strong pushback from transient vendors, prompting the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to schedule a study session for February 12 at 7 p.m. at the Government Center to gather public input on changing the policy. The DDA is expected to then make a recommendation on the policy to the Traverse City Commission, who may vote on the matter as early as next month.
Regardless of what the city ultimately decides, the Jonases plan to make food trucks a key attraction at their business.
“This is a great opportunity for us to showcase other people's talents, and bring in well-curated, well-executed food from amazing local chefs,” says Allison. “Our hope is that we can create something special and unique in downtown Traverse City.”
To see more photos of the Jonases' project now underway, click here.