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Food Trucks Move Forward with Pilot Program

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- The first Iowa City farmers' market was packed and the line for The Box Lunch food truck was steady, where owner Liz Wohlford handed out food to hungry customers who were happy to see her truck out after a long winter.

"I couldn't find you guys soon enough," one customer said.

Wohlford decided to start the truck last year after 30 years as a mechanical engineer, and now sells The Box Lunch's 50s and 60s-style diner food wherever she can. Her nephew Chris George got on board as the chef, and it was a perfect fit.

"(I) just got tired of (the) corporate world and wanted to start my own business," she said.

But Wohlford and George aren't just trying to change their own lives. They want to help change Iowa City's laws, too.

After taking public input at a recent forum, they've helped Iowa City staff draft the very beginning of a food truck pilot program. Right now, there are no city ordinances that oversee food truck sales within the city, outside of specific events like the farmers' market.

The pilot program will test how much business the food trucks can generate on their own in a given location, while not taking away from other restaurants. The trucks will be tested in three different locations in both the summer and fall, once students come back into town.

"Brick and mortar restaurants and food trucks co-exist, and sometime it takes a while to figure out what that relationship needs to be," said assistant city manager Geoff Fruin.

"I would not set my burrito truck up in front of a burrito restaurant, just because that's not cool," said Local Burrito owner Kyle Sieck.

Sieck has also been a part of the pilot program process, and said, he wants to sell more food, but not at the expense of the community.

"It's a small town with a big city feel," he said. "It pays to cooperate."

And something about Sieck's philosophy is paying off, because Local Burrito isn't just a food truck. Sieck rents space the Iowa City Hillel commercial kitchen to cook for his wholesale operation. People can find Local Burrito items in 16 different stores between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

"That's essentially what Local Burrito's mission is: to local common food products and encourage people to start their own local businesses," he said. "I take a lot of pride in that. The whole idea of growing and contributing to everything I've put into this this far motivates me."

And in that process, Sieck hopes to give other people the same sense of productivity and pride he gets from rolling tortillas.

"We need a whole army of people who are able to preserve food, and value add it, do something to it, chops it, preserve it, can it, and those are all job opportunities that could be localized here. We don't need to be importing all our food in the Heartland," Sieck said.

Sieck and Wohlford both hope that by creating a place for food trucks to set up shop in Iowa City, they'll help strengthen that connection to local food, bring people to it, and hopefully, get them hungry for more.

"And I really enjoy cooking food for people, too," Sieck said. "It's a lot of reasons which motivate me and (I) just can't quit."

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