A rendering of the Back Lot Grand Rapids restaurant, bar and food truck court proposed for the former Duthler’s Family Foods on the city’s west side. A rendering of the Back Lot Grand Rapids restaurant, bar and food truck court proposed for the former Duthler’s Family Foods on the city’s west side. RENDERING BY MATHISON | MATHISON ARCHITECTS

Northern Michigan developer plans Grand Rapids’ first permanent food truck court

BY Rachel Watson, Crain’s Detroit Business Friday, February 10, 2023 03:53pm

GRAND RAPIDS — The owner of a pair of food truck courts in northern Michigan is proposing a similar concept at a long-vacant grocery store on Grand Rapids’ burgeoning West Side.

David Meikle, owner of The Back Lot food truck courts in Petoskey and Charlevoix, will go before the Grand Rapids City Planning Commission on Feb. 23 to seek special land use approval, including for the sale or consumption of alcohol, for a location at 648 Bridge St. NW and 345 Lexington Ave. NW. The location at the site of the former Duthler’s Family Foods grocery store would be his fourth; another is underway in Marquette.

The plans also call for an onsite restaurant and bar with indoor and outdoor seating.

According to city property tax records and documents filed with the planning commission, Linda Pestka owns the property. It was unclear whether a sale is underway, but the planning commission documents show Pestka signed off on Meikle’s proposal.

Meikle, who declined to comment on the project ahead of the planning commission meeting, opened The Back Lot Petoskey in 2018 and The Back Lot Charlevoix in 2021. The Marquette City Planning Commission in January 2022 approved his proposal for a third Back Lot location in the city’s historic train depot, and work on that food truck court is underway, according to The Back Lot’s website. Meikle is a former resident of Birmingham and operator of the Talon Advisory Group, which he closed down when he moved to Petoskey.

Meikle hopes to operate the Grand Rapids food truck court for at least three seasons annually — spring, summer and fall. In the winter, the space would be used for outdoor seating for the restaurant and bar, with fire pits and heaters.

A site plan designed by Grand Rapids-based Mathison | Mathison Architects and submitted with the application shows space for five food trucks in the parking lot. The proposal said the trucks would operate with lease agreements for a minimum of six months and up to several years.

Meikle did not propose a timeline for the project in his application.

Part of a growing food scene

The site in Grand Rapids’ rapidly developing West Side is known for its growing food and beverage scene. It sits across from Meijer’s small-format Bridge Street Market that opened in 2018, and is within 1,000 feet of Küsterer Brauhaus, One Bourbon, Arktos Meadery, Butcher’s Union, Fratelli’s Pizza Kitchen & Bar, Condado Tacos, New Holland Brewing’s The Knickerbocker, Morning Belle, and Maru Sushi.

Meikle wrote in his application that the proposed use for the site “expands and supplements the existing active and vibrant retail and entertainment corridor by creating another dedicated place for community patrons to gather.”

Grand Rapids Planning Director Kristin Turkelson said as far as she knows, this would be the first permanent food truck court in the city. Geoff Gaskin, president of CDKI Holdings, operates a seasonal food court called Street Eats GR on his downtown property at 822 Ottawa Ave. NW, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum is approved to let three food trucks at a time park on its downtown property at 101 Monroe Center St. NW, adjacent to Rosa Parks Circle.

Other than that, most food trucks rove the city by themselves or park in temporary clusters for festivals and events on pre-approved parcels of public land, as allowed in the food truck ordinance the city adopted in 2019.

“(Meikle’s proposal) is definitely meant to be more of like a destination and a permanent feature,” Turkelson said, comparing it to The Little Fleet, which opened in downtown Traverse City a decade ago and remains a popular tourist destination.

Turkelson said Grand Rapids’ current zoning rules allow food truck courts to operate on private property for 90 days with administrative approval, but anything beyond that requires planning commission approval. The proposed use would be consistent with the area’s zoning as a traditional neighborhood/transitional city center district, she said.

Since this is the first application for a permanent food truck cluster of this nature on private property, she said she can’t confidently predict how area restaurants would react to the plan.

“I think that there’s a variety of opinions, and research differs on the matter. … I guess we’ll find out,” Turkelson said.

The building that would house The Back Lot Grand Rapids opened as an auto service station in 1917, then operated as a car dealership until the 1950s, when it was converted to Duthler’s Family Foods. The grocery store closed in 2017 and has been vacant since.

The developer said in his proposal the property has “inevitable pollution from fuel sources and other volatile organic compounds.” He plans to remove fuel storage tanks on the northwest corner of the site under the existing slab in a small crawlspace area, then infill the area and cap the hazardous soils with “new fill and concrete slab.”

Meikle plans to demolish the northernmost roof that’s in poor condition, reinforce and rebuild the building facade to serve as perimeter frame for the approximately 6,000-square-foot outdoor area, make sidewalk and landscaping improvements, and create new openings in the façade along Bridge Street and Gold Avenue.

He said he will rehabilitate the interior of the building, bringing it up to code and converting it to a bar with an indoor dining area, shared kitchen, restrooms, and individual rooms or kiosks for vendors. The interior space is just under 10,000 square feet.

The site plan proposes a 41-space parking lot on the south end of the property along Gold Avenue and Douglas Street, as well as several street parking spaces.

Meikle plans to hire about 15 employees for the restaurant and bar, not including the workers in the independently owned and operated food trucks.

Proposed hours for the restaurant, bar and food truck court are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday.

Read 5703 times Last modified on Monday, 13 February 2023 14:33