The owner of Matt's Morning Munchwagon, in Stevensville, alleges town officials are trying to shut him down at the behest of his competition, The Burger Shack.
"It's just starting to be a series of harassments," says Munchwagon owner Matt Northup. "It's getting to the point where I don't know what's going on."
Three weeks ago, Stevensville Mayor Lew Barnett visited the Munchwagon, which does business from the same 110 Main Street location as Winky's Café. Barnett advised Northup that, because of a drive-through restaurant ban on the main drag, the operation was legally questionable. Barnett slotted debate on the issue for a Planning & Zoning Board meeting the following week.
Northup's supporters showed up in droves to the April 6 board meeting, where it became clear that Winky's and the Munchwagon are exempt from the drive-through restriction because the building—and the window—was constructed before the ban took effect. Board member Howard Knight asserted that the zoning regulations were clear, and the mayor's intervention—personally asking Northup to defend the window and also the legality of a grease interceptor—was inappropriate. Knight further argued that Barnett's actions were fueled by "collusion and corruption" with Burger Shack owners Lisa and Rob Butler. The Butlers, Knight asserts, are concerned that Winky's—which serves burgers, made with local Angus beef, no less—is a threat. Outraged about the alleged collusion, Knight resigned his seat on the board at the end of the meeting.
"The mayor and the owner of the Burger Shack are close friends," Knight told the Indy last week. "That's what I think prompted it."
The Butlers and Stevensville Mayor Lew Barnett deny the allegations. Barnett says he was simply responding to concerns raised by multiple members of the business community—not just The Burger Shack—about even zoning regulation enforcement.
"They're wanting to know why this guy could get away with it," Barnett says. "I thought, 'Well, in the interest of fairness and openness, we'll just have a meeting.'"
Rob Butler, meanwhile, says he and his wife poured close to $18,000 into bringing the Burger Shack up to code and Winky's should simply be held to the same standards.
"There's no picking on—it's called rules," Butler says. "Fair is fair."