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Prairie Bay food truck looks north

Prairie Bay Restaurant’s food truck, the Side Dish Local-Motive Kitchen, has served up food in Brainerd and Baxter. When the weather begins to warm, the truck will get back on the streets with plans to head to northern communities this summer.

The Side Dish, said Matt Annand, one of Prairie Bay’s owners, is a fully loaded kitchen on wheels. They park and serve a variety of foods, including soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, take-and-bake pizza and crème brulée. It’s driven by one of Prairie Bay’s chefs.

Annand said much of the food is made from scratch, and the Baxter business strives to sell healthy options that are locally sourced. They partner with neighboring farms to offer seasonal menu options.

Before the weather got too cold, the Side Dish was stopping at Brainerd and Baxter businesses, parking where it was granted permission to sell food, like in the Best Buy parking lot.

The truck met some resistance with the Brainerd and Baxter city councils. Annand said the truck is operating in Baxter on a temporary permit while working through the legal process.

The Brainerd Dispatch reported that the Brainerd Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that city council not grant the truck a permit.

Brainerd city planner Mark Ostgarden was quoted as saying, “They didn’t think it was right for Brainerd at this time.”

Since then, Prairie Bay has been using petitions and social media to show the support the truck has. Annand also been talking to local businesses.

“I think we’ll work it out. It’s a draw anywhere,” he said, calling the truck a “people magnet.”

Annand said they can only go so many places with one truck, “but we plan to be all over the northland.”

He added that between catering, weddings, festivals and lunch stops, he could see Prairie Bay having three trucks someday.

While he’s met some resistance with the truck in Brainerd, Annand said that’s all smoothing out. He doesn’t see encountering much up north.

In most area cities, like Crosslake, Nisswa, Pine River and Pequot Lakes, vendors operating at festivals work through the chamber of commerce’s permit to sell during a festival or event.

Outside the festival, those cities require an interim use permit, peddler’s license or transient merchant permit to operate. Each city approaches this differently.

Some city staff members said they weren’t sure how a food truck would be defined in legal terms, and they weren’t sure city code specifically addressed food trucks. Others said they’d never been approached with a food truck request.

Annand said the truck wouldn’t be making week-long stops in one place. The truck would visit one city one day, another the next.

He named numerous tentative plans for the truck. Aside from hitting all the local festivals, he’d like to set up tables with tablecloths and serve six-course meals from the truck. Dinner and a movie night would include food served out of the truck and a movie projected onto its side.

He’s also like to host cooking classes at local farmers’ markets. He’d buy the ingredients on-site from neighboring vendors and host a demo on how to cook a healthy meal from those foods.

“There’s so much you can do with the fact that you’re now mobile, we want to try it all,” Annand said.

He plans for the truck to hone in on what are called “food deserts” — the U.S. Department of Agriculture defines them as areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious foods.

Annand said that when selling food from the truck, he wants to play fair. If he parks outside Rafferty’s, for example, he won’t serve sausage and pepperoni pizza. He would serve one of Prairie Bay’s unique pizzas, but steer clear of items that are Rafferty’s standards.

Creating and starting up the food truck has been a real project, Annand said. The company had to go to New York to buy the truck, then brought it back, fixed it up and painted it.

Since then it’s been a job posting menus and the truck’s location on social media websites.

“There are so many things that go into operating a truck that you don’t think of,” he said.

Currently, Annand and his team are getting the truck prepped and ready to go.

“When spring hits, we’ll hit the ground ready,” Annand said.