Food carts were once a downtown Peoria tradition. They’re slowly returning

PEORIA — For the first time since 2019, hot food is being served on downtown sidewalks.

Before COVID, food carts were a popular lunchtime option outside the Peoria County Courthouse for more than four decades. At one time, the city had as many as 15 pushcart licenses. But the pandemic changed all that.

It’s been a slow road back. Last May, the Peoria City Council even voted to waive fees for street and sidewalk food vendors and mobile food vehicles for the remainder of 2022. But the downtown vendors never returned.

That’s starting to change.

Byron Davis and his crew work the lunch crowd at Davis'  food cart, Butch's Place, outside the Peoria County Courthouse in downtown Peoria.

Byron Davis and his crew work the lunch crowd at Davis’ food cart, Butch’s Place, outside the Peoria County Courthouse in downtown Peoria.

On Monday, May 1, the Butch’s Place food cart became the first to operate downtown in four years. On Wednesday, May 3, Butch’s Place was selling Polish sausages, beef hot dogs, nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, sodas and chips along Main Street.

Butch’s Place was joined by a truck from Jane’s Sweet Addictions selling candy, nuts and more. Also on hand was a tent operated by the Popcorn Shoppe. But those two ventures are temporary, their appearance downtown coincides with the Arts in Education Spring Celebration.

Butch’s is in it for the long haul — or at least until the weather gets too cold, said owner Byron Davis.

A sausage covered in onions and mustard is ready for eating at the Butch's Place food cart in downtown Peoria.

A sausage covered in onions and mustard is ready for eating at the Butch’s Place food cart in downtown Peoria.

It’s Davis’ first time as a vendor in downtown Peoria, though he’s operated a food cart at the Spoon River Drive and other venues for more than a decade. He is also a manager at Po-Boys and the Premier Event & Entertainment Center.

He said he’s considered a downtown venture for several years, and finally “decided to go for it.” One motivation was “to give the community something.” Another was “to help myself and help my family” — all of his food cart coworkers were family members.

So far, he said, “Everything is good” in the downtown operation. “I can’t complain,” he added. He hopes to “build a clientele one person at a time.” He said he tries to talk to every customer.

Sausages and onion sizzle on the grill as hungry diners line up for lunch from the Butch's Place food cart in downtown Peoria.

Sausages and onion sizzle on the grill as hungry diners line up for lunch from the Butch’s Place food cart in downtown Peoria.

As for the business’s name, Davis said, “Everybody asks that.” Butch’s Place, he said, was named for one of his parents — but not his father. Butch, he said, was his late mother’s childhood nickname. “She was a tomboy,” Davis said.

More food news: Peoria Heights owner closes winery and bistro ‘with a heavy heart.’ Here’s what we know

Butch’s Place is open from 10 am to 2 pm Monday through Friday outside the Peoria County Courthouse.

More vendors on the way?

So far, Butch’s Place is the only sidewalk and street vendor licensed to operate in downtown Peoria. (Willie’s Tamales is licensed to operate at UFS. The Peoria City/County Health Department lists another 17 mobile units licensed to operate elsewhere in Peoria, as well as eight licensed multi-event temporary vendors.)

City of Peoria spokesperson Stacy Peterson is hoping Butch’s Place will soon have company. In March, the Peoria City Council waived the fees for downtown food trucks and push carts for the remainder of 2023. Peterson said city staff have been communicating with some business owners about obtaining a license and some of the latter are pending. She said the waiver was made in hopes of enticing food trucks back to downtown.

Peterson added, “The return of the food trucks and food carts has been well received by the attendees of the Arts in Education Spring Celebration and those who work downtown. Not only does it add to the vitality of our downtown, but it’s also been a nice reminder for those community members who remember the vibrancy of push carts before the pandemic and a wonderful introduction to those who have never experienced it.”

This article originally appeared on Journal Star: Food vendors slowly returning to downtown Peoria, Illinois