If you like food, you'll probably like Pete Haga's idea for Grand Forks - and now that he has a six-figure grant in hand, it's that much closer to reality.
Haga, winner of a nearly $107,000 grant in the Knight Cities Challenge, has plans in place to buy a food truck that can be rented to aspiring new American restauranteurs.The truck gives them the chance to leverage their cooking skills into cash, helping bridge what can be a difficult transition from their country of origin to a new community.
Haga calls it "Uber for food trucks."
"For anyone who's worked in a restaurant, it takes a lot of work and a lot of skills," Haga said. "These are skills these people have, and it gives them a way to use those skills and gain entry into the local economy."
Haga, who serves as Grand Forks' community and government relations officer, stressed that the truck isn't a city-associated project.
He said he envisions users out and about at big events such as the Wild Hog Marathon or local July 4 celebrations. Haga added, though, that he still needs time to get the project moving-an ambitious goal, as he describes it, would be to have the truck operational in time for when UND students return to campus this fall.
"The goal would be that it would be a vehicle, pun intended, to several brick and mortar establishments down the road," Haga said, underscoring that users don't necessarily have to serve new American-style cuisine. "The pretty picture would be that, five years from now, there would be three new restaurants."
Haga said he hopes to work with groups such as the Global Friends Coalition to help with the administrative support it takes to make the truck happen and added that he's still working out the fine details of a business plan. Cynthia Shabb, the coalition's executive director, said that would be handled by the organization's executive directors.
"I think it puts a really positive element to expanding people's (tastes) and being part of a welcoming community," she said. "Some people have never had Somali food before. This food truck will give people opportunities to have these great flavors."
Haga's win marks the first time that the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded the grant to a Grand Forks applicant, and comes in the second year the competition has been held. The group received more than 4,500 ideas grants in all this year, and Haga won the grant alongside 36 other winners from 19 communities around the country.
Lilly Weinberg, a program director with the Knight Foundation, praised Haga's idea as a "tremendous opportunity" to help bring new Americans' skills to the fore.
"This type of idea has occurred in larger cities," she said. "For a small market like Grand Forks, this is relatively new, and we'll be watching to see what we can learn from that-what we can learn in a smaller market."
The foundation also announced a noon event on Tuesday where Haga will be recognized, slated for the outdoor pavilion east of the Memorial Union at UND.
Haga was one of three finalists from Grand Forks in the competition. Stephanie Erickson, a Grand Forks city planner, and Toasted Frog co-owner Jonathan Holth both qualified as finalists for a proposal to close downtown streets for winter-themed activities, from snowball fights to ice skating to winter bicycle riding.
Michelle Rydz, a board member for Ground UP Adventures, proposed adding a climbing wall and public art to a local skate park.