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Leia's Lunchbox

Leia's Lunchbox, above, had its late-night vending permit revoked for a year after City Council found that an employee pointed an assault-style rifle to try and break up a fight on Oct. 8.


Madison officials are looking to phase out late-night food carts Downtown as part of a broader approach to reducing alcohol-related violence and other problems.

A draft proposal prepared by three city departments calls for an end to late-night food carts — vendors who can sell food in designated Downtown spots from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursday through Saturday — by 2023. Late-night vendors from the past two years would be given a five-year window to continue serving food in the early morning hours to provide time to transition their business away from the practice.

“We just think having a reason to encourage people who are often times intoxicated to remain in the area any longer than need be after bar time is really a problematic situation,” Central District police Lt. Brian Austin said at a meeting of the city’s Vending Oversight Committee on Wednesday.

The Madison Police Department, the city’s Economic Development Division and the city attorney’s office worked on the draft proposal. Nothing has been formally proposed, but staff hope a finalized plan will be introduced to the City Council at its Feb. 27 meeting.

Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, said late-night food offerings in the State Street and Capitol Square areas have been problematic since the program began in the 1990s, and the designated spots for vending have changed several times in response to community concerns.

“Ultimately, I think this game of musical food carts is untenable,” Verveer said.

Ald. Zach Wood, who represents the UW-Madison campus, and Verveer said they were supportive of the concept of phasing out late-night food carts.

Austin said there has been an increase in the past few years of fights and assaults around bar-closing time. While he said food cart owners don’t encourage such activity, their presence provides intoxicated people “an opportunity for congregation.”

Currently, the city offers five permits to late-night vendors: Two spots on the 400 block of North Broom Street, two spots on the 500 block of North Frances Street and one spot on the 300 block of North Lake Street.

In December, the City Council voted to revoke the late-night vending permit for Leia’s Lunchbox for one year after finding that an employee took a rifle out of the food cart and pointed it at a man to try and break up a fight on Oct. 8.

The vendors for the 2017-2018 season, which ends April 14, and vendors during the 2016-2017 season would have the chance to purchase permits through 2023, under the draft proposal, but no new businesses looking to feed hungry bar-goers could apply.

The draft proposal would eliminate specific vending zones and, instead, allow the city’s street vending coordinator and police department to determine appropriate locations for vending during the five years. The locations could also be changed at any time if they don’t work out for safety reasons.

City staff hope the City Council could approve the change by March, making it applicable for the beginning of the 2018-19 vending season on April 15.


Logan Wroge has been a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal since 2015.