Students looking to pick up a quick bite on their way to class can now choose from a variety of options ranging from hot dogs to crepes thanks to a fast-growing array of food carts occupying Ann Arbor sidewalks.

According to owners distributing the food on and around campus, the carts are sprouting up all over the city in large part because of the low overhead cost involved in running them. And though snowy Michigan winters may seem like an obstacle for the food cart industry, owners say they plan to weather the cold.

The City of Ann Arbor requires food carts to have an application approved by the Police Department, complete with a sidewalk occupancy application, photo of the cart, Health Department certificate and proof of liability insurance.

Sebastian Estalada, who owns Hot Dogs on the Run — a cart stationed at the edge of the Diag on South University Avenue — said the business requires a small investment, but provides a quick return.

Estalada has had food carts in Ann Arbor for 11 years. This year he has one cart, but he said he plans to expand to four carts next year.

His food cart, which sells hot dogs, sausages and kielbasas, is out every weekday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the winter, the business sells hot items like coffee, Estalada said.

Jake Waldecker, owner of Smokey Jake’s BBQ — which is located in front of the Union — said the hours and flexibility of owning his own business are perfect for him because it gives him a chance to work only while his daughter is in school.

Smokey Jake’s BBQ has been in business for about a month, and Waldecker said he plans to continue working through the winter. His cart serves homemade pulled pork and pulled chicken sandwiches and is open weekdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Waldecker said he has worked in many food industry jobs, spanning from dishwasher to executive chef, but he’s enjoying having his own business and being his own boss.

“Food carts give you an opportunity to make money in the food industry without the overhead,” Waldecker said.

Students seem to appreciate the food carts because they can get a good meal for a cheap price, and the cart’s location makes it quick and convenient for students on their way to classes, Estalada said.

Waldecker agreed, adding that his business also offers students something different than other food carts.

While both Estalada and Waldecker said their businesses are profitable, business is sometimes slow.

“It really seems to be hit or miss. Business has been getting better as more people see the cart,” Waldecker said of his first month of business.

Both owners added that they are trying to expand beyond food carts. Estalada offers catering services and has catered events at the Natural Resource Center, the University Law School and the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. And Waldecker said he hopes to franchise and eventually have his own BBQ restaurant.

LSA sophomore Quintin Meek said though he’s never bought anything from a food cart he appreciates that the owners are generally friendly and that they “don’t force it on you.”

LSA sophomore Julia Gu said she feels the food carts are a vital aspect of the city.

“I feel like the carts often go unnoticed, but they contribute to the dynamic of Ann Arbor,” Gu said.

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