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Food vendor licenses on the back burner

By John GeluardiDaily Planet staff
Monday December 31, 2001

A applicant for a food cart license, who has invested $20,000 and waited over five years for an opportunity to start a business, is becoming impatient with the city’s apparent inability to clarify its licensing policy. 

The applicant, who asked that his name not be used for this story, said the city is in violation of its own ordinance, which requires the licenses of city’s three mobile food carts, located just outside UC Berkeley on Bancroft Way at Telegraph Avenue, to be turned over to new vendors every four years. 

According to the applicant, hundreds of potential entrepreneurs have put their names on the city’s waiting list for an opportunity to open a food cart business. But no new licenses have been issued for years. 

“The idea of the ordinance is to allow vendors four years to develop a business that would hopefully grow into a restaurant,” he said. “But now all three of the vendors have been there for much longer than four years and some have also opened restaurants.” 

The three food carts, Veggie Heaven, Chinese Kitchen and Musashi, are currently operating without a license said Director of Finance Fran David. However, the City Council approved a recommendation to not take any action on the mobile food cart vendors until the city’s policy has been clarified, David added. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington sponsored the resolution on behalf of Shihadeh Kitami, the owner of Veggie Heaven who was about to lose his vendor license. At the time, Worthington said the issue should be studied further before shutting down the food cart. Worthington said he was concerned because Veggie Heaven, which uses organically grown produce, was especially popular because it is one of the few places near campus where inexpensive and healthy food was available. 

The resolution was approved unanimously by the council on September 25 along with a request for a report on the licensing policy from the Finance Department, which oversees food cart licensing, by Oct. 9. However David has not yet submitted the report. 

“We anticipate the report going to council some time in January,” David said. 

Meanwhile the applicant, who has waited years for a license, said the city led him to believe his license was finally about to be approved.  

He said he quit his job and spent $20,000 for a trailer, a van and kitchen equipment including an oven but has not been able to get a response from the Finance Department about the status of his application. 

“They keep saying the same thing, ‘we’re looking into this, we’re checking on that’ and now it’s been over five years,” he said. 

David said she did not know what action the council was likely to take.  

“They could do just about anything, keep things the way they are, restructure the ordinance or just get rid of the carts altogether,” she said. 

Food carts have been a tradition at the busy intersection since the 1960s. At one time there were as many as eight small businesses selling affordable meals primarily to students. However, over the years, the city has scaled back food cart licenses to where there are now only three operating.