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Friday, October 16, 2009

Stiff Competition Shaping Up for Food Vendor Contracts in Dolores Park

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 2:29 PM

click to enlarge With weekday foot traffic and proximity to the 18th Street food scene, Dolores Park is prime ground for vendors. - PHILLIE CASABLANCA/FLICKR
  • Phillie Casablanca/Flickr
  • With weekday foot traffic and proximity to the 18th Street food scene, Dolores Park is prime ground for vendors.
Yesterday's deadline to submit proposals for mobile food vending in San Francisco parks suggested there's stiff competition for the steep swath of green that's become Ground Zero for street food in the city: Dolores Park.

SFoodie spoke with two major players who bid for Rec and Park contracts to manage pushcarts in Dolores Park: sustainable hot dog company Let's Be Frank and food business incubator La Cocina. It's unclear how many other proposals were submitted for Dolores, or indeed, for any of the more than 200 city parks -- Rec and Park didn't return SFoodie's calls today. Blue Bottle Coffee owner James Freeman confirmed that the company had submitted proposals, but declined to say for which parks.

The winning bidder would have exclusive rights to conduct food sales in the Dolores, famous for high-profile unlicensed vendors such as Adobo Hobo and Crème Brûlée Cart. But both Let's Be Frank and La Cocina told us that, if chosen, both would consider working with unlicensed vendors to help them become legal food sellers in the park, essentially subletting vending rights at Dolores. Let's Be Frank also submitted a proposal to set up carts in Golden Gate Park near the California Academy of Sciences. Rec and Park is expected to make a decision about the winning bidders sometime in November. Park food selling is scheduled to begin Jan. 1.

LBF cofounder Larry Bain told SFoodie his proposal included stationing hot dog carts in Dolores, with offerings almost identical to LBF's cart in Crissy Field and its storefront café in the Marina. The one exception? Since Dolores is close to Mission High, school district restrictions mean LBF would have to drop the sugary sodas in favor of juice drinks. Bain indicated a willingness to work with a currently unlicensed vendor to complement LBF's offerings. "We would like to expand the offerings around Dolores Park," Bain said. "Our concern is getting people in that are not chains, that offer real food grown by real people."

One place Bain suggested he'd look is at the vendors who've already been selling in the park illegally. "I don't think anybody chooses to be unlicensed because its fun," Bain said. "Licensing requirements -- especially at the state level -- are very onerous." One of the biggest is the requirement to prep food at an inspected commissary kitchen, rather than, as Bain put it, in somebody's bathtub. "It works for gin. I'm not sure it works for custard."

Meanwhile, La Cocina's proposal for Dolores Park includes what director Caleb Zigas indicated would be up to four food carts: One or two of what Zigas described as La Cocina anchor businesses, with the remaining slots filled via rotation with La Cocina program participants and others. "We proposed managing the park much like we manage the kitchen here," Zigas said. "The idea of it is to provide an infrastructure, so anyone now selling informally would be able to sell pretty easily after becoming a formal vendor." What Zigas calls "formalizing" is the process of becoming licensed, with all the necessary permits and insurance.

"The idea is to make sure some of these informal vendors don't get pushed out of the park," Zigas said.

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