Mark’s Carts is where people tend to gather on an empty stomach. It’s also a great place for entrepreneurs hungering to learn more about the restaurant business.
“It’s a wonderful place for people who may be interested in a food startup,” said, Dorothy Nordness, of Saline. “It’s a great place to nurture people.”
Nordness has been a frequent visitor to Mark’s Carts since it opened on May 9 in Ann Arbor on South Ashley Street.
The courtyard is the brainchild of Mark Hodesh, owner of the nearby Downtown Home and Garden.
Hodesh’s idea came when trying to figure out what to do with his vacant land behind his business. He also owned a building at the end of the block that had a kitchen from when the building was formerly rented by an architect.
“I had these unused assets that needed to have something done with,” Hodesh said.
After a visit with his daughter in New York, Hodesh saw a pizza oven on wheels and a vendor roasting Mexican corn.
“I didn’t think about it at the time, but all of a sudden it flowed together in a way to have carts, have one kitchen for them and for them to be associated with the kitchen,” Hodesh said, adding that the county health department officials were helpful in getting this business started. “It gave us good use of the space.”
Mark’s Carts is home to six different carts offering a wide variety of food:
The Lunch Room, which serves vegan entrees, sides and desserts.
San Street, featuring Asian street food, pork, mushroom and tofu buns.
Debajo del Sol, specializing in Spanish paella and tapas.
Darcy’s Cart, serving breakfast burritos and other eclectic and local items.
Humble Hogs, home of hoagies, braise in a bun and other savory and sweet offerings.
Hut K Chaat, with vegetarian Indian street food.
In the initial preparation of Mark’s Carts, 45 applicants applied for space. Some had duplicate menus, some had experience, but Hodesh didn’t think their plans were right. Others had no experience, but had great plans, he said.
All carts pay $7,500 for the season, March–November. That includes a place to park their carts and access to the kitchen and utilities.
And some carts have already made a return on their initial investment.
“If you’re willing to work long hours, it will pay the bills. And it is,” said Phillis Engelbert, co-owner of The Lunch Room, which she started with her business partner, Joel Panozzo.
“We kind of had a following of people who liked our vegan food,” Engelbert said. “Then there was an article in the paper that Mark (Hodesh) was going to start this so we applied.”
Andrea Tanner, of Saline, thinks the idea of the food carts is a great idea.
“I like that that cart,” she said pointing to Darcy’s Cart, “lists where their ingredients come from, which I think is really nice because then I know where my food is coming from.”
Some cart owners have dreams of owning their own restaurants or catering services one day.
Mark’s Carts is open from 8 a.m.–10 p.m. seven days a week, but each cart makes its own hours. Every Friday, there is live music from 7–9 p.m. in the courtyard.
For more information, visit http://markscartsannarbor.com.