Opening the Food Truck Market

Food trucks are a proven tool to promote culinary entrepreneurship, small business development, placemaking and city building.

The Grand Rapids City Commission in August 2015 approved a pilot ordinance that enables food trucks to operate on public property in 13 Downtown locations, industrial areas and select City parks. The ordinance also empowers citizens to consider the potential for food trucks in their neighborhoods and recommend expanding the City's food truck opportunity areas.

Prior to the new ordinance, food trucks in Grand Rapids were basically only allowed to do business on a limited basis at special events in public places and specially permitted instances on private property.

The policy change stemmed from GR Forward community conversations in which Grand Rapidians frequently identified food trucks as a strategic way to help activate under-performing public spaces and attract more people to the city.

Mayor Rosalynn Bliss embraced that view in her 2016 State of the City Address and called for policy recommendations to make Grand Rapids a more food-truck-friendly city.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. worked closely with the Mayor's Office, city staff, food truck owners, restauranteurs and other community stakeholders to develop, advance and implement these recommendations.

This page includes a summary of that collaborative process and key project-related info intended to support an informed community conversation about public interest policy change.

Pilot Food Truck Ordinance Evaluation

The pilot food truck ordinance aims to demonstrate a new approach to managing food truck businesses on publicly owned property.

To gauge the effectiveness of the approach, the ordinance directs City staff to work with key stakeholders, develop an assessment tool for evaluating the performance of the pilot ordinance and report findings and recommendations to City Commission in January 2018 and January 2019.

A diverse group of community stakeholders - including Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, the Grand Rapids Food Truck Association, key City departments and others - currently are working to define and present a list of evaluative criteria for the summer 2017 food truck season.

City Commission Materials & Process

Let's Roll: Food Truck Town Hall

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. on July 20, 2016 organized a town hall-style forum for discussing the many community benefits linked to a thriving food truck industry and the objectives of the draft proposed city ordinance designed to make GR a more food-truck-friendly city.

Panelists included:

  • Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss
  • Paul Lee, owner of What the Truck and two local restaurants - Winchester and Donkey.
  • Mark Sellers, founder/CEO of BarFly Ventures, the parent company of HopCat, Stella’s Lounge, Grand Rapids Brewing Company and Waldron Public House.
  • Tarra and Cory Davis, owners of Daddy Pete’s BBQ.

The conversation was organized in partnership with Linc Up, Local First of West Michigan, Grand Rapids Area Chamber, Start Garden, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Market Grand Rapids.

Participatory Policy Design Process

Several months of conversation with key stakeholders and interested parties informed the development of the DRAFT policy recommendation to the City Commission. Here's a summary of the process:

December 2015

  • Grand Rapids City Commission approves GR Forward, which was shaped by thousands of Grand Rapidians and identifies food trucks as a strategic placemaking and economic development tool.

February 2016

  • Mayor Rosalynn Bliss calls for recommendations to make Grand Rapids a more food-truck-friendly city.

March - May 2016

  • DGRI and City staff convene a Food Truck Policy Reform Work Group to identify key issues and develop a community engagement process to inform policy recommendations.
  • Community engagement process includes:
    • Interviews with 40+ restauranteurs and business owners in the Downtown and neighborhood business districts.
    • Focus group discussion with a dozen food truck operators.
    • Survey of some 30 food truck operators.
    • Exploratory conversations with key community stakeholders such as the Grand Rapids Area Chamber, LINC, West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Market among others.
    • Dialogue with DGRI's Alliances for Livability and Vibrancy.
  • DGRI Board of Advisors recommends the City Commission adopt a streamlined regulatory process to license food trucks and allow the businesses to operate in the public realm while respecting the proximity of traditional restaurants..

June 2016

  • Food Truck Policy Reform Work Group translates policy recommendations to DRAFT proposed policy ordinance and sends to City Commission.

Informational Resources