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Jack Pine Brewery seeks to change Baxter's mind on food trucks

BAXTER - Adding food as options for Patrick Sundberg's customers at Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter seemed to be a logical step for his growing business.

Jack Pine Brewery was founded in 2012. Plans are for a business expansion and owner Patrick Sundberg is seeking approval from the city to include food for customers via a food truck. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch
Jack Pine Brewery was founded in 2012. Plans are for a business expansion and owner Patrick Sundberg is seeking approval from the city to include food for customers via a food truck. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER - Adding food as options for Patrick Sundberg's customers at Jack Pine Brewery in Baxter seemed to be a logical step for his growing business.

Barefoot Burrito, a mobile food vendor in Baxter licensed as of October, applied to provide the food service at the brewery, just off College Road. But the brewery's parking lot is at the edge of the 200-foot separation the city established between residential areas and food trucks.

Sundberg asked the city if he could seek permission from nearby property owners to allow the food truck to park by the brewery and taproom.

At a recent Baxter City Council meeting, Josh Doty, the city's community development director, said the options were to amend the ordinance and look at the option of getting property owner's to OK the use. But with the apartments in question, Doty noted the difficulty of getting approval from a potentially moving target of tenants. With that concern, Doty said the way to go may be to look at changing the distance if that was what the council wanted.

Mayor Darrel Olson noted one of the agreements when the brewery first went into the city's industrial park was that it wouldn't include tables and chairs or become a restaurant.

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Sundberg said it wasn't laid out that way. But, he noted, the brewery was his first business, first brewery and was a work in progress. Sundberg said he didn't expect the business to take off as fast as it did. First year projections, he said, were exceeded the first month of business. Now Jack Pine Brewery isn't the only brewery in the area. Gull Dam Brewing opened late this fall in Nisswa and offers food for customers as well as its beer.

Sundberg said there are a handful of breweries out of perhaps 50 in the state now that do not have a food truck option.

"It's just a really good pairing," Sundberg said. He noted breweries are often in industrial areas as a loading dock is needed. He said while he isn't currently shipping a great amount of beer at this time that will come in the future, which is why the industrial area is a good setting and the taproom law created to allow a beer tasting area there.

"We've got a really good following," Sundberg said, adding people drop in Friday nights to grab a growler of beer and go home. The food truck would provide an additional option of grabbing dinner as well, Sundberg said, but the 200-foot distance requirement eliminated his entire parking lot. Residential property is on the other side of a back fence on the property's north side. Sundberg said if the city considered using a 200-foot setback by normal pedestrian traffic, like the liquor license, the food truck would be allowed. Although residents have been known to cut across the area as the fence doesn't wrap around to touch the building leaving room for pedestrians.

Olson said he realized the food wouldn't be provided by the brewery but questioned when, as the business is taking off, at what point it moves into another realm. Sundberg said Barefoot Burrito is quick hand-held food and vendors like it and Prairie Bay doesn't have good places to park because Baxter doesn't have a downtown with a lot of foot traffic. Jack Pine Brewery is the best place to park them in the city, Sundberg said.

Council member Mark Cross said in his limited experience at the business he saw having a food option as an extension of the take out. And while it was a gray area for water and sewer accessibility charges, he said it's not as though the takeout beverage and food would be consumed there. Cross was open to an ordinance revision based on appropriate screening or buffer to reduce the distance.

Council member Todd Holman, who has also patronized the brewery, said one of the concerns of putting it in the industrial park was the tension with how much commercial is enough and they've tried to keep it limited in the industrial park. Holman said his concern was what to do in the transition when a business may not be quite ready to move to the next step. Holman said he was reluctant to amend the 200-foot distance on a case-by-case basis. Holman said he would have felt good about a deviation if the city's comprehensive plan determined land use along College Road should be looked at differently to allow more commercial, but instead it called for keeping it the same. Holman also noted the Jack Pine Brewery parking lot was shared by multiple tenants.

Holman said businesses like this really need to stay within the boundaries or grow and look at other zoned districts.

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Council member Jim Klein agreed with Holman.

Council member Rob Moser concurred: "I feel we should stay with the ordinance as it is written and continue to apply it as we have in the past."

After the meeting, Doty said a lot of consideration went into choosing the 200-foot separation as a distance for the food trucks as a way to offer flexibility for establishments along the Highway 371 corridor.

After the council meeting in the parking lot outside his brewery, Sundberg said he plans to put together a proposal and return to the council in January.

"So basically anywhere that works for a brewery should work for a food truck then. The way it's listed it's actually 300 feet by normal pedestrian traffic to the nearest residence," Sundberg said. " .. and then it's like 600 feet to the nearest house. That's the proposal I want to push let's marry up the two ordinances and let's make this work."

If this doesn't work, Sundberg said he's been told options include moving to the edge of the industrial area with the creation of a planned unit development. But Sundberg worries about the time it may take to work through the city and at sinking a half million dollars into an expansion in the interim. When he was first setting up his brewery with a separate full-time job, Sundberg said he had time to go through all the regulations. Now the brewery is his sole job and he has employees as well. He's planning a production expansion at the brewery but has been putting his energies into resolving the food truck question so he'll be able to offer food to his patrons. He said it's ironic establishments serving alcohol are required to offer food and he has a brewery but is being prevented from offering food.

"I want to be in Baxter but ..." Sundberg said, "it kind of takes the wind out of your sails and the part that gets me down is I hear all these other stories of breweries around the state getting support as a business that is bringing tourists in and business to the community."

Sundberg also wants to put a petition together to bring to the city council early next year.

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"I don't want to force the city into doing something that really doesn't fit but I think they are being a little unrealistic - a little hard and firm on what their vision is and what an active business can actually do in the area."

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Related Topics: BAXTER
Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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