Council votes to suspend itinerant food vendor permits for now

When Kristal Hubbard stopped at The Sausage Grill pop-up food stand Saturday in the Village Center parking lot in Seymour, it was a fun treat, she said.

She got a Philly cheesesteak sandwich and fries, while her husband ordered a cheeseburger, a giant corn dog and fries. There also were Italian and Polish sausages and lemon shakeups available.

Customers lined up at the stand all weekend, practicing social distancing by remaining 6 feet apart from each other.

The Sausage Grill, which is a regular at local festivals and events, including the Seymour Oktoberfest, was set up Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Seymour and ended up selling out of food.

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, festival food vendors across the state are facing significant financial losses due to cancellations of events with mass gatherings, so they are looking for ways to recoup some of that money.

Gresham Concessions, which is based in Hayden, owns The Sausage Grill and had planned to bring its Miss Piggy’s or Mr. Beefy’s stand this weekend to sell different items. But those plans have been put on hold while the city decides if it wants to allow pop-up food stands to continue at this time.

During Monday’s city council meeting, members voted to suspend issuing itinerant food permits for now. It plans to reevaluate and vote on the matter at the May 11 council meeting.

Councilman Drew Storey said it’s important to engage and support local business.

“Placing a suspension on applications will allow our council to align public interest with the expectations our local businesses have for the city’s oversight,” he said. “Our local businesses are the first ones we all turn to for support throughout the community, and it seems like it is our duty to reciprocate that support.”

Storey doesn’t want to see the city eliminate itinerant food vendors, but instead wants to change the application process to benefit local business.

“I want to see all our local vendors receive the best opportunities to stay ahead before passing those opportunities to vendors not contributing locally,” he said.

A representative from The Sausage Grill said they were disappointed by the decision but hoped the council would change its mind.

“Unfortunately, our permit was not renewed, but hopefully, in the near future, we can get this issue resolved so we can serve our great customers in Seymour,” they said.

The itinerant permit costs $100 and is good for three days. The suspension does not include mobile food trucks, which have their own annual permit and rules to operate in the city.

Mayor Matt Nicholson said he wasn’t against the idea of the pop-up stands, especially for local vendors.

“They do roughly 90% of their business in Seymour when it comes to propane and miscellaneous accessories for the four trailers they run all summer,” he said of Gresham Concessions. “I would consider them a local company because of that.”

But the city also has received a request from a vendor based in Vevay, he said.

“We obviously don’t want mini carnivals going on in our parking lots,” he said.

He also doesn’t want to see business taken away from local establishments that are struggling due to only being allowed to serve through drive-thru or curbside pickup because of the pandemic.

Building Commissioner Jeremy Gray said he expects his office will receive more requests from food stands to set up.

“I think we’re going to see this on a more regular basis,” he said. “These people are losing out on these festivals, so they are going to want to set up in our parking lots to recoup some of their costs.”

Gray said he is worried about the impact pop-up stands will have on local restaurants.

“If I owned a restaurant, I wouldn’t be happy that somebody is able to sell food out of a parking lot when I have to be closed,” he said.

Clerk-Treasurer Darrin Boas suggested the city allow food stands to set up once a month on the same day to make it more of an event to attract people to the city.

Councilman Bret Cunningham said in the current economic situation, he doesn’t want to see the city add any outside competition to its local businesses.

“It’s times like this that we need to take care of our own first,” he said.