Cabot Nelson is a fascinating person whose knowledge must be described as nothing less than encyclopedic. Cabot holds a degree as an Urban Planner and like myself he is fascinated about the way that cities work. In 2002-2003 he ran a hot dog stand with his father which was never intended as something to make a lot of money but more as a project. As Cabot puts it, “the adventure didn’t quite succeed”. He explained that one of the reasons for this was the choice of location which was too far away from trafficked areas. So without foot traffic and parking, it was extremely difficult to remain profitable. As a fellow taco enthusiast, Cabot suggested Taqueria Lolita on 900 S 300 W so we could eat some delicious food while talking about taco stands, regulations and the benefits of street interactions in a city…
Kelly : So Cabot, we were talking about the street taco stand in Liberty Park, is it against the law to have any kind of food vendor in a park in SLC?
Cabot : Any kind of vendor is against the law. For instance, there is a special events permit like the kind they have a few times a year. When I had the [hot dog] cart in 2003, the sidewalk vendor ordinance had been in place I think since 92. As far as I know, the law has not changed since then. As far as I know, the carts are off limits for the parks. Anyone who shows up in a park selling is most likely rogue.
K : And that includes selling food and non-food items?
K: Sometimes I have seen people in the park selling things like glass roses and I have wondered, “Are they allowed to be there or not?”
C : There are some exceptions which come about during the Anderson administration regarding the street performance arts which is kind of a first amendment issue of an expression. And that includes art that they create there. That’s the reason why the south end of the Farmer’s Market in the Pioneer Park is occupied by a few of these artists. They can be there by law. They can get one of these permits for free. This is the way they get around itt.
K : Well that makes sense. That explains why I’m not seeing a taco cart in Liberty Park anymore. That’s the second time I’ve seen one disappear. When I talked to owner of the most recent cart there, he said he had bought the cart from a previous senora who sold it to him because she didn’t have the time. Now I wonder if he understood the licensing and the laws about food vending in SLC parks.
C : Yes, the licensing requirements are very serious about this. If it’s going to be on a public property, namely on sidewalks they still have to have 4 foot clearance for pedestrians or 8 feet total including the stand. This is why the stuff can work at Sears. There’s plenty of room for pedestrian traffic. Also carts cannot be within 100 feet from each other unless it’s around the corner. When I was operating the hot dog stand, the boundary was South Temple to 900 S and I think 300 W to 900 E. I had to work within those boundaries. They did start allowing some carts in Sugarhouse. That’s the reason Cebollitas had a cart there.
K : I live by there and I love that place. I never knew for sure why it disappeared!
C : Well, it’s mainly due to the disappearance of Sugarhouse Coffee. Also, they don’t allow stands across the street from Temple Square. Other restrictions include that they must have a commissary where you park your cart at night. This has to be a place where you can break your cart down at night and your food has to be stored and cooked at proper temperatures and that is what these commissaries provide. The commissary that I went to was A & J foods. Anyone operating a cart must have a food handler’s permit from the county in Murray. The cart also needs to be inspected by a fire marshal who needs to see that you have a fire extinguisher there since there is propane. Oh… I should also mention that I had to provide a sketch of the cart to make sure it looked OK.
K : Hahaha!!! Really? Just to make sure that it was aesthetically pleasing, or…
C : Yes, but they’re very broad about that? They just want to make sure that it’s nothing egregious. But consequently, you’ve got something where the barrier is rather low for entry. So people are willing to get in and try it. Cities, I think, are one of the greatest inventions of mankind. What makes a city great are the interactions. And most interactions between people occur through commerce. And what better way than have something like a taco cart?
K : Yes. That’s definitely one of the things I wanted to spend time talking about. Street food in general I wanted to talk about what it offers to a city and what kinds of needs it serves. Maybe we could talk about that in a moment?
C : Sure…
[At this moment, a nice woman brings our tacos to the table….]
We will continue with the second half of the interview with Cabot next week. In the meantime go eat some tacos in the beautiful Salt Lake sunshine!