The Cool Juicy Bus, a smoothie and juice drink stand located in a 1960s school bus, reopened Monday at a slightly new location on Pioneer Avenue next to Alaska Wild Berry Products. The bus was closed a week when the city enforced a section of city code prohibiting food stands from being located “in front of or immediately adjacent to an established business offering the same or similar commodities from a fixed location.”
Owners of Cosmic Kitchen, a neighboring business, filed a complaint alleging the bus violated that code. Homer Police last week told The Cool Juicy Bus owner Scott Wright and operator Sage Dance-Wright that if the bus operated on a lot next to Cosmic Kitchen, it would violate that section of the city’s mobile food vendor code and face a fine of $300 a day.
The city had responded to an emailed complaint filed June 18 by Cosmic Kitchen owners Sean Hogan and Michelle Wilson. Hogan and Wilson cited the city code, section 8.11.070(b). Cosmic Kitchen is directly west of the Wild Berry property. The Cool Juicy Bus had been located in the middle of a drive-through parking lot, straddling the legal lot line between 512 E. Pioneer Ave., the lot closest to Cosmic Kitchen, and 528 E. Pioneer Ave.
Hogan and Wilson also wrote in their complaint that The Cool Juicy Bus sign placement near the Cosmic Kitchen driveway was confusing.
“I think the thing that was most objectionable to the owners of Cosmic Kitchen was the sign,” said Homer City Manager Walt Wrede. “We felt like we had a duty to protect permanent businesses that are here year round and have made a lot of investment in their buildings.”
After The Cool Juicy Bus moved to a lot further away from Cosmic Kitchen, and Hogan and Wilson and Wright and Dance-Wright discussed the issue, Cosmic Kitchen withdrew its complaint. With the complaint withdrawn, Wrede told Homer Police Chief Mark Robl that the bus could operate at its new location.
Reached during the busy lunch hour on Monday, Hogan said he was happy with the new situation. The Cool Juicy Bus owners also apologized, he said.
“That’s what’s been the most affirming aspect of this — coming to a resolution with them,” Dance-Wright said of Hogan and Wilson.
Wright first ran The Cool Juicy Bus in Fairbanks in 1997, and he and Dance-Wright ran the bus in the summer of 2013 on property owned by Matt Shadle at the northeast corner of Main Street and the Sterling Highway.
Because getting a mobile food vendor permit involves criminal background checks and fingerprinting, Homer Police administer and enforce permitting.
Wrede said a mobile food vendor gets a permit to operate in the city and not at a specific location. Vendors also have to comply with state and Kenai Peninsula Borough regulations.
The Cool Juicy Bus has all the proper permits, Wrede said. Mobile food vendors must have permission in writing from a landowner to run on private property. On the Homer Spit, food vendors also cannot operate in public parking lots, campgrounds, parks and open space.
Wright’s application to the city was confusing in that it said the job site was on Main Street, but the legal description was for 512 E. Pioneer Ave., the lot next to Cosmic Kitchen.
“You can see why there was confusion where they were to go,” Wrede said.
Homer Land Holdings, a San Francisco company, owns the Wild Berry property and leased use of 528 E. Pioneer Ave., to The Cool Juicy Bus, said Debra Leisek, owner and broker of Bay Realty. Bay Realty is the property manager for Homer Land Holdings.
Wrede said even at its new location, The Cool Juicy Bus still might violate the “immediately adjacent” phrase in the code that describes where a mobile food vendor can be in relationship to a permanent business.
“The code doesn’t say anything about distance or about lot lines. It’s a visual thing. How does it appear when you look at it?” Wrede said.
Homer Realtor and radio talk show host Chris Story has leased the lot right next to Cosmic Kitchen at 512 E. Pioneer Ave. and put a Chris Story Realty trailer there.
“It was strictly to say, ‘OK, government, if you’re going to play this game,’” Story said of leasing the lot.
Wrede said seafood restaurants on the Homer Spit complained about another mobile food vendor, Big Dipper, being too close to their businesses. Big Dipper is the fish-and-chip and seafood shop in the red British double-decker bus in a private parking lot at Coal Point Seafoods. Two seafood restaurants are across the street. Wrede said since Big Dipper is not “in front of or immediately adjacent” to other restaurants, the Big Dipper does not violate that section of the code. A road separates the businesses, Wrede said.
Dance-Wright said she agreed with the intent of the mobile food vendor ordinance in protecting permanent food businesses.
“I’m glad it’s there. It’s to protect established businesses,” she said.
She said the code could use clarification and better define phrases like “immediately adjacent” or “offering the same or similar commodities.” Cosmic Kitchen also sells smoothies and fruit drinks, but has a larger menu.
Wrede agreed that the mobile food vendor code might need some changes.
“I think we may need to take a look at the whole thing again,” he said.
The closing of The Cool Juicy Bus hit social media last week, with a spirited discussion of it on The Cool Juicy Bus and other Facebook pages. Tempers have since cooled down. With the neighboring businesses happy and the complaint withdrawn, “I think we’re all cosmic again for now,” Wrede said.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.