Food Policy

Hot Dog Standoff

Food cart cronyism


Last summer 13-year-old Nathan Duszynski, whose mother has epilepsy and whose father has multiple sclerosis, wanted to make some money to help out his family. He decided to open a hot dog stand in downtown Holland, Michigan. Duszynski saved $1,200, mostly money he earned by mowing lawns and shoveling snow. He checked with the city to make sure he didn't need any licenses or permits. Then he bought a shiny silver cart with a red-and-yellow umbrella, plus dogs, buns, condiments, and other supplies.

Ten minutes after Nathan set up shop in the parking lot of a sporting goods store on his first day of business, a zoning official arrived to shut him down. The problem: The parking lot officially falls within the downtown commercial district. Although Nathan got the store owner's permission, the city bans food carts in that area to minimize competition for the eight restaurants a couple of blocks away. The sporting goods storeowner—who was hoping the hot dog stand would attract additional customers—pays those taxes, but that didn't earn Nathan a pass.

When the story went national, Mayor Kurt Dykstra stuck to his guns, explaining that because of the extra taxes the restaurants pay, "it is understandable that these businesses, historically at least, have been reluctant to allow mobile vendors into the downtown area." After the story got even bigger, the city relented, making a special exception for Nathan's cart—but not until after the family was forced to move into a shelter.