Market Spark: Stepping out in front of the crowd and modeling innovative practices.
In a world full of MBAs trying to make apps turn a profit, Christine Ameigh's business ideas seem remarkably unstudied. The proprietor of the Slide food cart just wanted to re-create the sense of fun and excitement she'd had when she lived in Southern California and it was "food cart night" in her neighborhood.
At the time, Madison's cart scene was ripe for revolution. Though carts are not legally restricted to noontime vending on the Library Mall and the Capitol Square, practically speaking, that was the only time business was going on.
Ameigh, 33, asked a couple of other cart owners to join her in opening for dinner on Atwood Avenue in the fall of 2012. Then dubbed "Let's Eat Out Atwood," the event was an immediate hit despite the chill and early dusk.
In 2013, Ameigh changed the name to "Let's Eat Out Madison" and expanded to the west side. By 2014, Let's Eat Out had grown to four nights a week covering two neighborhoods a night, from the north side near Cherokee, to Capitol View on the far east side, to East Pass near Verona, to Middleton. To cap off the year, a cart night fundraiser for Project Kinect was held near the Malt House at Union Corners. That initiative will work to hire high school interns to work in carts next season.
Ameigh says she originally drove around "looking for areas where there were not a lot of food options." Since then, alderpersons and neighborhood associations have approached her to bring Let's Eat Out to their neck of the woods. Development has been organic.
Not only do cart nights create a new opportunity for neighbors to talk to neighbors, they introduce crucial new markets to the vendors. An extra night's vending can mean two or three hundred dollars for a rainy day, to pay off a loan, or even avoid getting a second job during the winter. "That impact can absolutely be huge," says Ameigh.