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Posted on Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Vendors making a dent in outdoor eating market downtown as Restaurant Week begins

By Ben Freed


In order to sell outdoors, all businesses in Ann Arbor have to apply for outdoor sales permits.

File photo

Many consider Restaurant Week to be the unofficial kick-off for the outdoor eating season in Ann Arbor. But it's not only restaurants that are in business on downtown sidewalks these days. Since 2009, there have been more vendors selling everything from hot dogs to used books appearing as the weather warms up.

In order to sell outdoors, all businesses in Ann Arbor have to apply for outdoor sales permits. According to City Clerk administrative specialist Kelli Johnson, those permits cost $1 per square foot per year.

"In the month of April, business owners get first dibs on the permits," Johnson said. "They reserve their space and then the general population can apply for any space not already reserved."

As the economy faltered in 2009, more and more of the general population began to take advantage of this opportunity. The city issued 193 permits in 2009, up from just 117 in 2008.

"I had a lot of experimental businesses," Johnson said. "People playing accordion, trying to sell scarves their grandma made, just about everything you could imagine. And as long as they weren't doing something illegal we gave them permits."

According to Johnson, many of the first-time vendors folded but those who found vending profitable quickly began applying for multiple permits, keeping the numbers up over the following years. In 2011, 196 permits were granted. One of those success stories is Dad's Dogs, operated by owner Marc Fruend.

Fruend started his own hot dog cart business in 2009, having previously worked for a company that supplied photochemicals to newspapers. He initially held one permit for 101 N. Main St.

"It's a fantastic location, because it's right across from the courthouse and courthouses rarely lack business," he said. "But in November I started to encounter more precipitation so I needed a plan B."

Fruend applied for and received a second permit underneath the overhang of the parking garage on Maynard. The location served him well with Borders as an "anchor store," but he now mostly uses it in the evenings when students are in town.

Seeing the successful business model has encouraged others to get into the game. Lisa Tallerday and her husband Ray celebrated their third day of business Friday at the corner of Liberty and Fifth Avenue.

"Our cart is called Wheelie Good Wieners," Tallerday said. "My husband came across the idea and it sounded like a fun thing to do in retirement so we decided to go for it. Business has been great and it's a lot of fun."

Johnson said there is not a lot of love lost between downtown business owners and vendors who sell on the street.

"The businesses do not appreciate the vendors at all. The vendors don't pay property taxes, so some stores do not appreciate the competition," she said. "Also, many businesses don't like the vendors to be right outside their stores. There's not much they can do about it though unless they buy the areas themselves."

Jon Gould, district manager for Main Street Ventures restaurants Palio, Real Seafood Co. and Carson's, said his restaurants open their outdoor seating as quickly as they can to compete with the outdoor vendors.

"We get going as soon as it's warm enough," Gould said. "We open according to the Michigan weather. People know our restaurants and enjoy the outdoor seating and we want to give them what they want as soon as possible."

While they don't always get along, the combination of vendors and outdoor seating at established businesses have combined to make outdoor dining an essential part of the Ann Arbor summer experience. So much so, in fact, that other municipalities have been contacting Kelli Johnson for advice.

"I've already received calls from Madison, Wisc., and San Antonio, Texas this year," she said."San Diego's municipality called last year to learn about how we encourage outdoor economic activity. I think outdoor eating in Ann Arbor is a fabulous thing, and people seem to truly enjoy it."

Ben Freed covers business for Reach him at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


pooh bear

Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 2:32 p.m.

remember that the restaurants pay a ridiculously low fee to rent the sidewalks all summer. The cost of the food is the same whether indoors or outdoors. Yet, the price inside is probably $35/sq ft and outside less than $5./sq foot. The city is practically giving the sidewalks away in an effort to have a lively downtown. I think the restaurants could stand to pay a little more since they do exceptionally well.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 9:15 p.m.

I don't believe vendors are hurting businesses... either i'm going to choose to eat at a restaurant or i'm not, I never go downtown without having plans. There's a huge difference between deciding to spend $20 on a meal or get a $2 hotdog.

Jon Saalberg

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

Seems like an inflammatory headline - is there any evidence to support any restaurant owner's claim that their business is hurt by sidewalk vendors' business? And I find it ironic that the comment is from a representative of one of the downtown Ann Arbor restaurant groups. Really? Those little carts are hurting their business? I'd have to see some statistics to back up any claim of that sort.

Ben Freed

Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:51 p.m.

Hello All, I would like to mention that while it was not covered in this story, the permit process for a food cart is far more complicated than simply applying for a permit for the occupancy area. There are several health and safety permits that must be obtained from the city and county, and food carts that follow all of the rules are subject to health inspections. There are some food carts that operate without proper licenses, but the vast majority are following all of the rules and guidelines laid out by the city and county. Hope this helps, Ben


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 8:15 p.m.

Don't confuse the issue with facts.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:12 p.m.

carping carpers notwitstanding, when done well carts can be wonderful.... the best barbeque in texas ( franklin's in austin ) came from a cart until its success allowed the opening of a 'brick and mortar' place....ditto a crepe trailer there ( "flip happy" , which beat bobby flay in a televised competition. this seasons top chef winner , the chef at austin's highest end eatery---Uchiko-- has put his winnings into a series of trailer/food stands. ive yet to try marks carts but look forward to it.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

These food carts are very questionable in terms of sanitation. A solo cart operator is handling both food and money, a very unsanitary situation. I've even seen some vendors wear latex gloves to serve the food and then keep the same gloves on when handling the money, and not changing the gloves for subsequent transactions. In this situation, the gloves do nothing for the customer in terms of sanitation. There is no place for a "cart" operator to wash hands. I'd never eat anything purchased at a cart. Where are the health inspectors?

Trisha Carey

Wed, Jun 20, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

I'll trust the solo cart operators handling of food over the street fairs food pavilions any day!!! inexpensive and strategically placed, I say bring them on and to each their own choice of dining pleasures.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:28 p.m.

statements made with a clear lack of knowledge about this subject. carts are inspected twice per year. required to have hand washing sinks, soap and paper towls and required to use them. cant get a license without them. any prepared food is made at a commissary which is also inspected twice per year. i know someone at marks carts and each cart is inspected 2 times per year plus the commissary each time. with 8 carts thats 16 inspections per year of the commissary. no restaurant in town recieves that much scrutiny. your understanding of this subject is an uniformed one. if you dont like the money and food handling practices talk to the vendor. do not disparage them here in a public forum before you know all the facts. you should do more research before blindly blurting out commetns.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:43 p.m.

We don't like eating on a main street because of all of the car, bus & truck fumes, plus the noise.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:55 p.m.

Totally agree.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

The Kiev of the Midwest!


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

isnt the operative phrase in rightwing circles "moscow on the Huron"?? glad to see you are a bit more independent minded and geographically sophisticated than many of your persuasion.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 1:49 p.m.

Grabbing a cheap hot dog vs a $20 lunch... It's comparing apples to oranges.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 2:59 p.m.

The hot dogs aren't that cheap.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

I bumped into that road block Friday nite. Didn't know what was going on until I read about it Saturday morning. Wish things like this were advertised earlier. I heard it was a complete success.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 1:41 p.m.

Yep tax those small businesses and choke em. Of course the cost is passed onto the consumer making this a hidden tax on the masses. And Atlas Shrugged!


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

I completely understand the year round tax paying businesses frustration with vendors. $1 per square foot, really? It would be interesting to know what it costs per square foot, including taxes etc to rent a restaurant location on Maynard or Main Street. The rate for permits should be much higher. $1/sqft does not cover the cost of providing a healthy & safe environment. As a city we should eliminate this type of competition for our dedicated downtown businesses.


Mon, Jun 11, 2012 : 6:45 p.m.

" As a city we should eliminate this type of competition for our dedicated downtown businesses." Comrade, how do you propose we enact this mandate?


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 3:01 p.m.

The carts are not sanitary and the "health" of the food is questionable. Hot dogs are not healthy food.


Sun, Jun 10, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.

We never eat downtown. But we enjoy greatly driving through town on a nice evening and seeing all the life others are enjoying. I am all for the restaurants and venders bringing life to the sidewalks!