Food truck operators mull option to park at Taste

  • Bob Block, Giana Wilkinson, Kelly Zoet, and Leslie Venetz buy lunch at the Brand BBQ Market truck in Chicago.
Bob Block, Giana Wilkinson, Kelly Zoet, and Leslie Venetz buy lunch at the… (Anthony Souffle/Chicago…)
April 12, 2013|By Leonor Vivanco, @lvivanco | RedEye

This year’s Taste of Chicago will have a new addition: food trucks.

Mayor Emanuel’s office on Friday announced the inclusion of food trucks at the Taste, to be held July 10-14 in Grant Park.

“This will be a great way for many Chicagoans to get a sense of the excitement of this industry and sample some great food,” Emanuel said in a news release.

Food trucks will operate beginning one hour before each night concert at the Petrillo Music Shell and serve concertgoers for the duration of the concert, according to the release.

The trucks, which will be parked on the centerfield concrete path east of the pavilion lawn seating, will be charged an amount equal to 25 percent of their proceeds in exchange for not paying the application fee other vendors submit to be part of the Taste.

By comparison, restaurants picked to participate in the Taste over five days pay a fee of $3,000, said Cindy Gatziolis, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. In addition, any business part of the Taste must pay $125 for a temporary food vendor license, she said.

“It sounds like a real cool idea and a great idea, but I’d have to crunch the numbers to see if it’s really plausible with 25 percent. That’s definitely a lot,” said Tiffany Kurtz, owner of Flirty Cupcakes food truck.

There are a lot of costs associated with running a food truck, she said. So far, Flirty Cupcakes has only participated in events where there is no fee because the truck helps drive people to the event with its social media reach.

Food trucks could help draw crowds back to the Taste, which struggled and lost money last year, said Amy Le, founder of the Illinois Food Truck Association.

“At this point, I’m just glad the city is considering letting food trucks participate,” said Le, who operated the Duck ‘n’ Roll food truck.

“Every year it’s the same vendors and there’s nothing ever really new. I think adding food trucks will bring excitement back along with bringing new restaurants as well.”

She said she would have to consider how many people she would expect to serve and how much money she would need to make to still be ahead by the end of the day even with the 25 percent cut going to the city. She questioned why food trucks have operating restrictions when other restaurants could have food booths open all day at the Taste.

The food trucks are intended to be an amenity for concertgoers, Gatziolis said. The trucks at the back of the lawn can serve people waiting for the bands to start and during intermission so concertgoers won’t have to hike over to the main strip of booths, she said.

Food truck operators seem receptive to the idea of being charged a percentage versus a fee to participate because there would be less risk to be hit hard financially if the event is not successful.

“If we don’t do well, then we don’t have to give everything up,” said Laura Pekarik, owner of Cupcakes for Courage food truck. “If it bombs, the best case scenario is I’m at the Taste of Chicago - that’s pretty cool.”

Before signing up to be at the Taste, she said, she would have to find out if it would work logistically, taking into account questions such as how she would restock cupcakes and keep them refrigerated in the summer heat and how many cupcakes she would need to sell to turn a profit since she donates 10 percent of her sales already for cancer research. She would like to research what bands are playing, what type of draw they have, and how many other trucks would be selling alongside her, she said.

The same Taste food and beverage tickets will be accepted by the trucks. The food trucks will offer two smaller Taste portions as well as up to four regular size items, the release said.

This comes after the City Council passed the food truck ordinance in July allowing trucks to cook onboard, creating designated food truck stands and increasing license fees.

Three food truck operators, including Pekarik, sued the city over the ordinance in November challenging the 200-foot ban from street-level restaurants and the installation of GPS devices.

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