Teens test downtown mobile vendor policies

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Two teenagers are testing the city’s mobile vendor policies for downtown Tupelo.
Claire and Stuart Newcomer last week opened Blue Hawaii Shave Ice in Fairpark. The business is based out of a 1966 Volkswagen Microbus parked in front of City Hall during specified times.
“We’ve been vacationing to the islands since fifth grade,” said Claire, 17. “The islands are a big part of our lives. We just wanted to share this with our hometown because it’s like our second home.”
This is the second time recently the city has issued a mobile vendor permit for downtown food businesses. Jed Duke last year opened Tiki Dogs, a hot dog cart that’s usually on Main Street in front of Reed’s during the week.
The mobile vendors, often called taco trucks, are banned elsewhere in the city, except for a three-day window every three months, said Marilyn Vail, the zoning administrator for Tupelo.
“Downtown is really the only area we can allow this on a regular basis within the current code,” she said. “Downtown has always felt a little differently.”
She said other cities have relaxed their rules because of the soft economy. In some cities, restaurants open a mobile unit to see if the concept will work before investing in a permanent space.
Vail said she wants to talk with the Tupelo Restaurant Association to get thoughts from members before proposing any changes to the current code.
The rules were a part of a major discussion at Main Street’s national placemaking project in 2010. The visiting consultants and experts said Fairpark needed food vendors to encourage more activity around the fountain and the park. Consultants hired later echoed the recommendations.
Since then, Tiki Dogs and Blue Hawaii have opened.
The Newcomers said it took them about four and a half months to open the business. Along with the mobile vendor permit, they have to get permits and health department inspections like regular restaurants. They also must get approval from the Downtown Tupelo Main Street Association. Plus, Stuart had to find the bus and get it retrofitted to hold the business. Claire did the artwork on the surfboards and made the tie-dyed awning.
The Newcomer siblings hope the community will embrace their “shave ice,” which is a Hawaiian-style snowcone. A machine shaves the ice, they said, and produces a fluffier iced treat than the crushed ice in traditional snowcones.
Prices start at $2.50 for a small, with additional charges for add-ins such as ice cream or specialized toppings.
The Newcomers are focusing on Hawaiian products. All of the syrups are imported from Hawaii, along with other items, like surfing salves and lip balms.
Teresa and Will Newcomer gave their kids an interest-free loan to start the business and are helping guide them along the way. But, Teresa said the teens are doing all the work, including researching shave ice, making deposits, interacting with customers and getting change from the bank.
“We just want the kids to learn about life and different cultures,” she said.
The Newcomers plan to operate the stand from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays until September or whenever the temperatures dip.
They also plan to openduring special events. They update their hours on bluehawaiishaveice.com.
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com