Food trucks are a proven tool to promote culinary entrepreneurship, small business development, placemaking and city building.
The Grand Rapids City Commission in August 2016 approved a 2-year pilot ordinance that enables food trucks to operate on public property in several 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 2016 pilot 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. continues to work 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 key project-related info and process updates to support an informed community conversation about food trucks in Downtown Grand Rapids.
Roll'n Out Food Truck Fest
Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and partners on May 21, 2017 organized Roll'n Out Food Truck Fest - the largest ever food truck rally in Grand Rapids. The event, which drew an estimated 10,000 people to Heartside Park and the Downtown Market, celebrated the city's Pilot Food Truck Ordinance and kicked off the summer food season by showcasing some two dozen food trucks and chefs on Ionia Street.
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
All documents in PDF format unless otherwise noted.
June 13, 2017 - City Commission Considers Amendment of Pilot Ordinance
- Grand Rapids City Commission Agenda. Item XI includes the proposed pilot ordinance amendments.
June 6, 2017 - Public Hearing on Proposed Pilot Adjustments
- Grand Rapids City Commission Agenda. Item XIII includes a public hearing on the three proposed Pilot Ordinance amendments.
- Memo with proposed Pilot Ordinance amendments up for public hearing.
May 23, 2017 - Pilot Ordinance Adjustments Proposed
The Food Truck Policy Work Group proposes several Pilot Ordinance adjustments that aim to continue elevating Grand Rapids as a food truck-friendly city. Specifically, the policy adjustments will further streamline the City's regulatory process, lower costs and barriers to entrepreneurs and keep more on-street parking spaces open. These proposed changes, detailed in the materials below, are based on the first 8 months of learning from implementation of the Pilot Ordinance.
- Grand Rapids City Commission Committee of the Whole Agenda. Item #4 includes the introduction of three proposed Pilot Ordinance amendments and City Commission consideration of scheduling a public hearing.
- Summary of proposed ordinance to amend the Pilot Food Truck Ordinance.
- Memo and resolution to set a public hearing on proposed ordinance to amend the Pilot Food Truck Ordinance.
- Full proposed ordinance to amend the Pilot Food Truck Ordinance.
- Proposed Food Truck Opportunity Area Amendments - Citywide. (JPEG)
- Proposed Food Truck Opportunity Area Amendments - Downtown. (JPEG)
August 23, 2016 - Pilot Ordinance Approved
- Grand Rapids City Commission Agenda. Item #9 includes the Second Reading of the Pilot Mobile Food Business Ordinance and Commission consideration of final adoption.
- REVISED: Grand Rapids City Commission Agenda.
- Proposed Pilot Mobile Food Business Ordinance.
- Memo: Minor change to clarify proposed Downtown opportunity area.
- Proposed Food Truck Opportunity Areas - Citywide. (JPEG)
- Proposed Food Truck Opportunity Areas - Downtown. (JPEG)
July 26, 2016 - Public Hearing on Proposed Pilot Ordinance
- Grand Rapids City Commission Agenda. Item #14 includes a public hearing on the proposed food truck ordinance.
- DRAFT Pilot Mobile Food Business Ordinance.
- Downtown Grand Rapids Inc's presentation introducing the agenda item.
July 12, 2016 - Pilot Ordinance First Introduced
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.
- 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 Background
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:
- 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.
- 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..
- Food Truck Policy Work Group translates policy recommendations to DRAFT proposed policy ordinance and sends to City Commission.
- How One Korean Taco Truck Launched an $800 Million Industry (National Geographic)
- How America Became a Food Truck Nation (Smithsonian Magazine)
- Seven Myths and Realities about Food Trucks: Why the Facts Support Food Truck Freedom (PDF; Institute for Justice)
- Why Food Trucks are Still Scarce in Grand Rapids (MLive)