The Haines Borough is about to delve into the world of food trucks and mobile commercial trailers. But, some permits have already been approved, including Cheechako Tacos, a food truck on the outskirts of town.
Chef Gregory Cooper grew up in Sacramento and most recently lived in Miami. A year ago, he packed up his city life and moved to Haines. He says after talking to locals, he soon saw the need for more options when it comes to eating out. Enter Cheechako Tacos, a food truck set to open Saturday in the parking lot of the Moose Horn Laundry.
“I’ve been a chef for about 15 years and am skilled in many different palates,” Cooper said. “But, being from California, Mexican food is a real big hit.”
Cheechako means new and inexperienced to Alaska or the Yukon, and the truck will focus on tacos, hence the name. Cooper is adamant about using fresh ingredients and making all of his offerings from scratch, including tortillas and salsa. He says he knows food trucks are popular in other towns and cities, and so he’s optimistic about taking the plunge in little Haines. He’s already been approved for a land use permit by the borough
At Tuesday’s Haines Borough Assembly meeting, Mayor Jan Hill announced the newly formed food truck committee will meet for the first time this week. Cooper’s business is one of a handful of trailer business, both food and non, that have been given with nod from the borough recently. Heather Lende is one of the food truck committee members.
“I was disappointed on Wednesday when I went onto the ship, I do a little book talk on the ships every week, and I was really surprised to see three food tents set up across the from the dock because our committee hasn’t even met yet,” Lende said. “I also heard of the other one that was permitted out the road a little bit and I was surprised because this is still in process.”
The taco truck isn’t the first food truck in Haines, Big Al’s Salmon Shack is heading into its sixth summer. Then there’s a scooter-rental trailer off the Old Haines Highway, and the Haines T-Shirt Co. across from the Port Chilkoot Dock. But, there is nothing in the borough’s code that specifies rules for food carts, or business trailers. Mayor Hill says she’s hoping the committee will come up with recommendations, with help from the public, to have regulations in place by next year.
“This topic comes up regularly and it’s something we need to deal with,” Hill said. “I’m sorry that we’re not dealing with until now, it’s going to be the end of June, but this way we’ll be prepared, one way or another, for next season.”
Hill says a few of the issues that have been brought to her by concerned residents and business owners is the limited parking, and close proximity to established restaurants which are also trying to get a piece of the summer pie.
“I certainly understand the concerns of people who have restaurants in town, I get that,” Hill said. “That’s why we want to have these public meetings. We want to get all the input we can – good and bad, negative and positive. Hopefully, it will all be constructive. I don’t want this to be just an opportunity for people to come in and bash the people who like it.”
The trailer businesses that have popped up recently are on private property, Hill says, and she wants to limit government overreach when it comes to what landowners can do on their property.
A few stakeholders suggested a specific area where food carts could all park together, like the empty lot at the corner of Third and Main. There are a lot of ideas and thoughts on the subject and Hill says she hopes everyone will bring them to the meeting on Friday.
For Lende, who is also on the planning commission, it’s not that she’s opposed to mobile businesses, but she says she just wonders if permits are already being handed out without any clear rules, where does it end?
“You want to be fair to everybody, so if people already have permits, then I guess that means that everybody can get one. What kind of community do we want? Does everybody want to have trailers and tents, and then boarded-up buildings in the wintertime, or do we want to encourage restaurants where we can sit down and eat.”
Cambria Goodwin owns the Pilot Light Restaurant on Soap Suds Alley. She says she can see both sides of the food truck argument.
“I personally am not offended by it, but there are limitations with a food cart, too that you don’t have a with a brick and mortar,” she said. “Like, you’re not going to be able to serve alcohol, you don’t have covered seating. There are plus and minuses on both sides, I guess.”
Goodwin says if she didn’t buy the site she’s in now, she most likely would have opened up a food truck.
Adam Richard co-owns the Fireweed Restaurant, also in the Fort Seward area. Like Goodwin, he says he supports the idea of food trucks, but would like to see some rules when it comes to how close they can be to his eatery. One idea Richard suggested was a buffer zone between food trucks and brick and mortar restaurants.
“Other than that, I don’t see too many problems with them,” he said. “It’s free enterprise and people have the right to have a business. If they make the choice to have a business that doesn’t have the same higher costs, and higher overheads that a traditional restaurant does, one could argue that that’s good on them for choosing that path for their business.”
As for Cooper, he says he can’t wait to get started offering “quality Mexican food to the Last Frontier.” He says his options will be a little limited to start with, as he is light on funds these days after purchasing the trailer and supplies. But tacos and burritos with all the fixings are on the menu. And a heaping plate will run around 10 bucks.
The food truck committee meets on June 24 at 5:30 p.m. in assembly chambers. Hill says if you can’t make the meeting, email her at email@example.com.