Food Carts Battle and Bid for Hot Spots
Mobile restaurants sell everything from hotdogs to sushi
ANCHORAGE - If you head to downtown Anchorage it’s hard to miss the smells of summer. Food carts selling everything from hotdogs to sushi line the sidewalks, attracting hungry tourists and locals alike.
But getting a permit for one of the city’s eight sidewalk spots comes at a price. Five years ago vendors had to go through a lottery to get a permit. Now it’s sort of a silent auction.
The secret to selling on the streets is all about good food and loyal customers. Michael Anderson knows that’s what keeps M.A.’s Gourmet Dogs in business.
“Honestly I think it's more about the food. They love my food, they put up with me,” said Anderson who’s owned the cart for 20 years.
He’s leased the prime location on Fourth and F Street from the Federal Building for the past ten years. Before that he battled other food carts for a top spot through the city’s permitting process.
“First year it was a first come first serve, kind of like getting a concert ticket. I stood in line in front of City Hall for three days. Next year, five days. The third year, nine days. Then they said it was an archaic system so they changed it to a lottery,” said Anderson.
Then the city threw out the lottery system and began a bidding process.
Tia’s outbid other vendors to clinch the corner of Fourth and E, spending $13,000 for the coveted spot.
“We have traffic coming from both ways, the Egan Center brings a lot of conventions. Right down the street is the Saturday and Sunday market, people from there, from the cruise ships, everyone from the Hilton eats over here. Everyone knows us. There's something about having that recognition and knowing where we're going to be here each summer that's kind of essential,” said Alejandra Buitrago, the owner’s daughter.
Spending money to make money doesn’t always pay off. Buitrago says the stand has yet to break even this year.
“We're definitely hurting, but we maintain getting the highest bid for the spot because we feel like as long as we stay consistent with where we are, and what we sell, and our customer service, that people will keep coming and our name will get bigger.”
While Tia’s will be up to bid again next year to get a spot, M.A.’s has a multi-year contract with the Federal Building and Michael says he’s not going anywhere else anytime soon.
The next highest bidder was Urban Sushi, shelling out nearly $7,000 for the spot next to M.A.’s in front of the Federal Building, as well.