Food cart program to bring new flavors to Decatur

Decatur is seeking to expand its reputation as a haven for foodies with a recently announced program designed to bring fresh cuisine and culinary diversity to the city.

“Decatur is synonymous with eclectic food and beverage, so this program will allow for even more variety and choice for residents and visitors,” said Shirley Baylis, business development manager for the city of Decatur, in announcing a program that invites food cart vendors to apply to establish themselves at designated locations—four in Decatur Square, two in Harmony Park, one on East Ponce de Leon Avenue and one on West Ponce de Leon Avenue.

Baylis explained that the program involves food carts, not food trucks. Food carts are smaller than food trucks and have more limited menus and cooking facilities. Also, unlike food trucks, food carts aren’t motorized and often are operated by only one or two people.

Mobile food vendors, according to, are “as old as dining out in America.” The same article called the chuck wagons of the old west “the direct ancestors” of today’s food carts. Food carts, which have come a long way since the classic hot dog and ice cream carts that have long been popular in urban parks and downtowns, are now the “fashionable way to get your lunch,” the article states, and now offer a wide variety of food choices, including many international cuisines.

“When you consider how many food cart operators are recent immigrants and/or people of color, giving them this opportunity to grow their business aligns with Decatur’s core values of promoting and celebrating diversity,” Baylis said. “The types of new flavors people have been sampling at festivals, they will soon be able to experience every day.”

Baylis explained that the food cart initiative was part of Decatur’s 2010 strategic plan and approved through an ordinance in 2017; however, before it could be implemented, the COVID pandemic struck. “We had to be out of our offices for a couple of years. Almost everything, including the food cart program, had to be postponed.”

City of Decatur and Decatur Downtown Development Authority officials say that implementation of the new vendor program is “a sign our vibrant downtown has returned.”

Baylis explained that a committee will review all applications and select the eight approved vendors, who will be permitted to operate their carts for one year during the following times: Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The committee, she continued, is in the process of reviewing applications. It considers whether the proposed cart will highlight cuisine that isn’t currently offered in Decatur, “creating more grab-and-go food and beverage options that appeal to those working in the business district.”

Baylis said the program also will help build Decatur’s sense of community as residents have greater opportunities to sample foods already familiar to their neighbors. It’s also an opportunity to help small businesses, she added. “Some of them may be operating the carts as a step toward a brick-and-mortar location and others may not want that; they may just want to amplify the businesses they have. In any case, this program can help them toward their goals.”

After 10 months, each operator will get a notice that it is time to reapply for the program, as renewals are not automatic and will go through the same process each year for approval, according to information provided by the city. This gives the committee the ability to ensure the broader needs of the community are being met by the vendors and creates an additional layer of accountability, city information states.

The application window, which opened June 1, will remain open until June 20. Any food cart vendor is eligible to apply, so long as they are current on their licenses and their carts are of the proper dimensions.


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