This summer has been a "three-dimensional game of tic-tac-toe," says street vending coordinator Warren Hansen, who since May has been trying to find adequate and lucrative places for Madison's food carts to vend in the face of ongoing construction. Construction, as Madison residents well know, has been everywhere -- but especially at the center of cart culture, Library Mall, which currently looks like a sandbox and is not expected to be completed until Oct. 31.
Hansen dispersed Library Mall carts to sites on Langdon at the Memorial Union, Lake Street at Memorial Library, and East Campus Mall just off State. (Other mall carts are vending on the Capitol Square this summer or just took the summer off.) However, two weeks ago Hansen suddenly learned the university was about to repave the East Campus Mall, and he had to relocate those five or six carts immediately.
Hansen, who says he's been "going with the flow because the alternative would be going crazy," tried putting three of those carts on North Frances Street, which is working out for only one of them, so he may try putting carts at West Washington and Carroll.
As of July 29, Hibachi Hut and Umami were at North Frances; China Cottage, Cafe Costa Rica and Natural Juice were on Langdon in front of the Union; Jamerica was the sole cart remaining near the Chazen on East Campus Mall. Wei's Food to Go has been spotted in front of Grainger Hall on University Ave. But this is not the time to expect a cart to remain in a certain place.
East Mifflin between Wisconsin Avenue and Pinckney has been newly populated with carts this summer, too. (As this block has no brick-and-mortar eateries for carts to conflict with, it's a good spot.) Bubbles Doubles, Toast (aka Gili's Paninis), Blowin' Smoke BBQ, Ladonia Cafe and King of Falafel have been frequenting this block, with Lao Laan Xang often on the West Mifflin side of Wisconsin Avenue.
Ladonia Cafe began the summer vending at Epic in Verona, but chef/owner Amie Swanson says it was too far to drive. Swanson hopes to return to Library Mall in the fall. In the meantime, Ladonia is now calling its cuisine "Healthy Comfort Food" with a sign that says to ask about its vegan entrees. (The menu is, in fact, still all-vegan). If you're looking for comfort, run, don't walk, to try the tofu pot pie.
Hansen does not know exactly how many carts will be accommodated on the new Library Mall. He guesses around 20, and says there will be a few more electrical outlets. But he is waiting for the end of construction to plan.
"We are all waiting," says Hansen, acknowledging that while some carts are doing okay, others -- with all the disruption -- will really appreciate your patronage.