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First downtown food truck is told to leave

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BB's
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After one week of serving slices in downtown Rochester, the BB's Pizzaria food truck has been driven away by city rules and concerns of unfair competition.

BB's owners Jason Brehmer and Tom Boxrud thought they had found a way to sell pizza downtown by securing a spot on private property. They made an agreement with Calvary Episcopal Church, at 111 Third Ave. SW, to park in the half-circle drop-off driveway on the northwest corner of the church's property. That spot put them within sight of the main doors of Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building and hundreds of hungry employees and patients.

The city council received complaints about the truck, which spurred the Public Works Department to review the land-locked church's arrangement to have the drop-off drive added. While the church believed it owned the drive, the city determined that the church's property ends at the edge of the sidewalk and the drive is actually a public street.

That ruling resulted in City Clerk Aaron Reeves calling BB's Monday night and informing the owners that the Calvary Episcopal spot is off-limits.

"I had complaints forwarded to me from every city council member and the department of Public Works," Reeves said. "There were no traffic issues or any complaints like that. There seemed to be concerns mainly about where the food truck was allowed."

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BB's Boxrud said he and Brehmer were "disappointed" by the news.

"We thought it would be a good marriage. We thought this was going to be really good for us and for the community," Boxrud said.

Other food trucks, like Lucy's Tacos in southeast Rochester, are attracting a lot of customers these days, but being downtown presents a different challenge.

One downtown eatery owner, Deb VonWald of Z's Pizza, said it simply comes down to what's fair.

"I don't feel like the trucks and downtown brick-and-mortar businesses are even on the same playing field," she said. "I have secured a downtown location for seven years. I pay special district taxes. I pay an exorbitant amount of rent. I also pay to take care of the building I'm in. For a food truck to be able to outfit a truck and poach business wherever they can talk somebody into letting them be on their property is really frustrating."

VonWald added that the additional fee she pays to have a booth at Thursdays on First & Third is more than what it costs a food truck to operate.

"I think if other people were finding that businesses were trying to compete with them in the same way, they'd be as outraged as I feel about it," she said. "I honestly don't think there's a place for it in Rochester. I feel extremely strongly about it."

VonWald intends to continue to discuss the issue with the city. However, City Council President Randy Staver has no plans to review the food truck rules to either loosen or tighten them.

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"We have heard views on both sides of this topic," he said. "I think (food trucks are) a very viable business model. However, I do appreciate the concerns of brick-and-mortar businesses. In my opinion, there appears to be room for both business models, but the rules are fairly clear cut."

The bottom line for the city is to keep the streets safe, and that means having rules and licenses for food trucks, Staver said.

Staver, a Mayo Clinic employee who works downtown, did add that he tried to eat lunch at the First Avenue Food Court today and found very long lines there, as well as at the nearby Z's Pizza.

"I ended up leaving and not eating," he said. "I think there's room for everyone to play."

Related Topics: FOOD
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