Food truck measure gains steam

  • Beavers Donuts food truck
Beavers Donuts food truck (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune )
July 19, 2012|By Leonor Vivanco, RedEye

Chicago's food truck industry will keep on truckin', but the rules may change.

The ordinance regulating food trucks advanced Thursday out of the City Council Committee on License and Consumer Protection after nearly four hours of discussion. City officials tried to balance the concerns of restaurant owners and needs of food truck operators.

“We think that local restaurants are really the cornerstones of our neighborhoods, also probably the largest employer in the city and also possibly the state. What we think we can do here is expand the pie and not take from one to the other,” said Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who owns Ann Sather restaurant. “We want this industry to incubate."

Chicago, known as a top culinary city, is behind other cities such as L.A. and New York when it comes to the food truck industry. City officials said they looked at other cities with ordinances when crafting and tweaking the proposal.

“While many of you here may think that this ordinance should have gone further for the food truck industry, I would argue this goes a long, long way and is, I think, far more flexible than policies in place in other major cities around the United States of America,” said Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) whose ward is downtown.

The ordinance is a good start, and a work in progress, officials said.

“We believe this ordinance is a practical compromise and will jumpstart this innovative industry in Chicago so we can have safe, healthy and available mobile food options,” said Rosemary Krimbell, commissioner of the city’s department of business affairs and consumer protection.

Currently, food trucks are allowed to sell only pre-cooked food prepared in a commercial kitchen. The ordinance would allow trucks to cook and prepare food on their trucks but a license will cost $1,000, up from $275. There are 127 licensed food trucks in the city.

Now, trucks may operate 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The ordinance would expand hours of operation. They would not be allowed to operate between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. and would be restricted from stopping or parking within 200 feet of street-level restaurants except from midnight to 2 a.m.

The change would allow food trucks to serve the breakfast crowd and late-night eaters, Krimbell said.

Food truck owners opposed the penalties of up to $2,000 and the 200-foot ban, citing concerns about the livelihood and future of their businesses.

The food truck owners are not against regulations, said Amy Le of the Duck N Roll food truck. But the 200-foot rule hinders them from operating their businesses.

Tiffany Kurtz, operator of Flirty Cupcakes, said, “If it passes, there will not be a food truck community even if they’re cooking on trucks if you can’t compete where the money is, which is in the downtown area.”

The ordinance allows for the creation of additional parking for trucks. A minimum of five food truck stands each will be designated with input from aldermen in six highly congested, restaurant-dense community areas: Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North Side, Near West Side, West Town and the Loop. Up to two trucks can park free for up to two hours at any stand in addition to parking in any legal parking space.

In addition, the ordinance would require trucks be equipped with GPS, and be subject to existing parking restrictions.

Like restaurants, food trucks are subject to regular health inspections and each truck would have a certified food service manager who has completed a food sanitation class, Krimbell said.

Unlike food trucks, restaurants pay rent and property taxes and their interests should be protected, said Glenn Keefer, owner and general manager of Keefer’s restaurant. He suggested a cap on food truck licenses and said the fees for food trucks as proposed are insufficient.

Grant DePorter, chairman of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association and CEO of Harry Caray’s Restaurant Group, supported the ordinance, as did the Illinois Restaurant Association.

“The success of food trucks will depend on the responsible behavior of them following the rules and regulations, including those related the food stands and parking restrictions,” he said. “It would be nice if we can all park where we wanted particularly on Michigan Avenue, but the reality is we all give up some of our freedoms in favor of the larger public good. This includes not having crosswalks or business entrances blocked.”

DePorter also questioned how the 200-foot rule would apply to restaurants in hotels and ones not at street level.

Opponents said the 200-foot buffer protected private businesses from competition and dismissed idea that trucks would negatively affect business at restaurants.

“Food trucks do not close down restaurants. Poor business models, poor food and poor service are what close down restaurants,” said Richard Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine Magazine.

The ordinance goes before the City Council on July 25.

lvivanco@tribune.com | @lvivanco

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