FOTB: Making the temporary permanent: Mont. food vendors move into Williston and run into new ordinanceWILLISTON — While catering events around the country, mobile food vendors Ernie and Jo Bingham met people who worked in North Dakota’s oil country.
By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum Communications
WILLISTON — While catering events around the country, mobile food vendors Ernie and Jo Bingham met people who worked in North Dakota’s oil country.
Over and over, those customers begged the Binghams to bring their Big Iron Kitchen to Williston.
It was just the invitation the Montana couple needed to move closer to family.
“We loved Williston and that was the perfect excuse for us to come here,” Jo said.
Business was good for the couple when they traveled the country, but it meant being away from their four children, who are all in their 20s. The couple also have two grandchildren with a third on the way.
“We wanted to stick together as a family,” Ernie said.
The family members now live in three houses next door to each other in Bainville, Mont. All four children either work or go to school in the area while Ernie and Jo operate their food business in Williston, occasionally closing to attend special events for their grandchildren.
“We love the area,” Jo said. “It’s been a godsend to us, it really has.”
The Big Iron Kitchen, set up in the parking lot of Champs Bar along U.S. Highway 2 on the north end of Williston, has become popular with workers and local residents during the 17 months it’s been open.
“A lot of us don’t have time to go sit down and eat,” said Mitch Frank, a construction worker and frequent lunch customer.
Indian tacos and burgers are among their most popular items. They also serve specialties such as the “hillbilly homewrecker,” a 1-pound, 15-inch sausage topped with grilled onions, and the “heart attack,” a pulled pork sandwich topped with onions, bacon, cheese and barbecue sauce.
The couple get to know the customers and hear their stories. Jo jokes that she should open an employment office because she’s often taking business cards and spreading the word about people looking for workers.
But the Big Iron Kitchen’s future is uncertain as the city plans to begin enforcing a new ordinance on Jan. 1 that prohibits mobile food vendors other than coffee kiosks.
Mayor Ward Koeser said Williston established a moratorium on any new food trucks after some created traffic hazards and raised health concerns. City leaders have also begun limiting temporary structures, such as food vendors, man camps and RVs, in an effort to encourage more permanent development.
The moratorium did not affect the Binghams because they were already open. Their location was originally outside of city limits, but a recent annexation means they’re now part of the city.
Koeser said Friday the ordinance that takes effect Jan. 1 will apply to their business.
The Binghams had not received any notification about the ordinance, but they’ve begun planning with Champs Bar to build a permanent location there.
“It’s heart-wrenching to think that we have to move,” Jo said.