Restaurateur Taylor Berger and attorney Michael Tauer, the duo behind the Truck Stop restaurant concept planned for the corner of Central and Cooper, held a standing-room-only community meeting tonight at First Congregational Church to discuss their plans and answer questions.
The Truck Stop is a hybrid concept that combines a restaurant serving small plates, adult beverages, and desserts with parking space for a rotating cast of three food trucks. Diners place their order for any menu item at the restaurant or from the food trucks' menus at one counter so no one has to stand in line at a food truck. The trucks will stay on the lot for several hours at a time, and when they leave, other food trucks will take their place.
There are plans for an indoor dining area and a patio seating area in the back facing the existing rail line. The restaurant will be created using 12 to 16 metal shipping containers that will be cut up to create open spaces and areas for natural lighting. Customer parking on the small lot will be kept to a minimum (only 16 parking spaces) to allow for a more pedestrian-friendly design.
While many in attendance expressed support for the concept, concerns were raised about the industrial look of the shipping containers. Tauer and Berger are currently seeking a zoning variance to use the containers on the property. Although the space is currently zoned for industrial use and does allow shipping containers for such uses, a variance must be sought to use shipping containers for commercial use.
Others expressed concern that the Truck Stop would increase traffic at the already busy intersection of Cooper and Central. Currently, the Truck Stop's design has one entrance (on Central) and one exit (on Cooper) for cars. But many residents said the exits and entrances should be switched so that cars exit on Central instead because the lane under the exiting railroad trestle on Cooper becomes clogged during rush hours.
Currently, that property is occupied by Midtown Nursery, and owner Michael Earnest was out of town when Loeb Properties, who owns the property, allowed Tauer and Berger to sign their 10-year lease for the Truck Stop. Earnest's lease was up for renewal, and he claims he had a verbal agreement to renew. Tauer and Berger said they were not made aware that Earnest was being forced out of the property until after they'd signed the lease.
Several residents spoke up about that situation, asking if the Truck Stop could move to another location and allow Midtown Nursery to stay where it is. But Tauer said they have a legal obligation to stay at Central and Cooper now that the lease has been signed.
An especially tense moment came when Earnest, who was at tonight's meeting, and Bob Loeb, owner of Loeb Properties, had a conversation in front of the meeting's audience about the situation. Loeb offered to meet with Earnest in private to discuss the matter further. But Earnest's daughter Whitney Taylor directed her concerns at Tauer and Berger.
"Why would you see an established business there [on Central and Cooper] and think you'd like be there?" Taylor asked.
"We would love to stay. We would love to be there," Earnest told the room.
But despite the situation between Loeb and Midtown Nursery, Tauer said the Truck Stop was committed to the location. He said they were still open to tweaking the design, especially in ways that would ease the traffic congestion concerns.
Tauer and Berger plan to take their zoning variance request to the Board of Adjustment meeting in January.