Food carts: Eating our way to better times

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Colorado Springs is getting hungry again.

I can feel it when I listen to Sandy Vanderstoep passionately advocate for more downtown food carts and I hear the choruses of stomach rumbles behind her.

Passion about food carts?

Well, you’d understand it if you knew more about Vanderstoep and more about modern food carts. I met Vanderstoep at Garden of the Gods Catering almost a decade ago. When I was arts editor at The Gazette, I ran into her a lot at entertainment and foodie events. Usually I was stuffing my face.

She impressed me. Not many caterers come from her intellectually modest background — as a brain surgeon. She’s smart. And more than smart, she’s determined. Vanderstoep has been on a crusade in recent months to put a collection of seven or eight food trucks and carts on the west end of the parking lot between 7-Eleven and People’s National Bank off Tejon Street. She and her team of culinary evangelists call it Curbside Cuisine.

The Downtown Burrito Co. and Bite Me Gourmet Sausage, two outstanding vendors, already have existed for months on the sidewalk next to the site. Curbside Cuisine will build on their successes.

Vanderstoep tells me she won’t make dime on this, and I believe her. The $300 a month that the vendors pay in rent will just cover the cost of insurance, trash and other expenses. So why’s she doing this?

Because it’s a good (expletive deleted) idea. It heaps gravy onto what has long been downtown’s greatest strengths: a concentration of restaurants and foot traffic. We certainly need more stuff to do downtown than eat and drink. (Did somebody say something about a stadium?)

More drinking, as we know, can be divisive. But can’t we all get behind the idea of more eating options? Food carts. I’m telling you. Food carts. If I were talking privately to a college grad (as in the famous scene in “The Graduate”) I wouldn’t murmur “plastics.” I’d murmur “food carts.”

According to a study by Urban Utility Group consulting group in Portland, Ore., food carts increase foot traffic and vitalization. It will help reposition downtown as a place where things are happening. It won’t rob from the existing restaurants. It’ll expand the market. Like a belt that needs to be kicked out a notch or two.

Collections of carts and trucks, called “pods,” have become enormously popular in Portland, New York, Austin, Los Angeles. These aren’t my daddy’s hot dog street vendors. These are exotic, gourmet, unexpected: We’re talking dumpling bars, tapas stations and real chefs.

The early list of interested vendors who’ve been part of the early discussions for the downtown site include: Jammin Cabana, Nourish Organic Juices, Bundt Appétit, El Padrino Mexicano, Chicago Pizza, Colorado Coffee Merchants, Island Style BBQ, the Springs Cupcake Truck, and the Crepe Crusaders. Shuga’s is working on a food truck that would serve their amazing Brazilian shrimp soup, and they’ve expressed interest in joining the pod.

That’s some good eats, and it’ll get better. More vendors will join them, some will come and go, and it’ll evolve.

Of course, we don’t have to do this. We can do as we so often do in Colorado Springs. Get mired in minutiae. Argue. And stagnate.

Or we can support Vanderstoep and her army of volunteers, including Landscape Architect John Olson and Architect/Designers Aaron Briggs and Mark Tremmell. We can tell Chris Jenkins, chairman of Nor’wood, willing to donate a portion of the parking lot, that we want this. That we’re hungry again. And we’re ready to step up to the plate. Or the cup of organic juice, as the case may be.

If you’re interested in joining Sandy Vanderstoep’s crusade (no money is requested, only enthusiasm), you can reach her at sandy@godsgourmet.net.

Warren Epstein is the founder of Dream City: Vision 2020 and Pikes Peak Restaurant Week and works as the Agency Voice at Vladimir Jones, an ad agency with offices in Colorado Springs and Denver. His comments are only his own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of VJ.