Jumping on the food wagon
Published: Saturday, October 13, 2012
Updated: Saturday, October 13, 2012 15:10
Everybody loves adopting a new trend. There are fashion trends, song and dance trends, Twitter trends and yes, even food trends. Remember when cupcakes became the new “it” food? And then it was on to macaroons. There is a new food trend that has been popping up all over the country and will soon be growing in popularity throughout Chicago.
If you are into reality television, you may have seen a few episodes of “The Great American Food Truck Race” on the Food Network. The series follows eight food truck teams as they race across the country, stopping in designated cities to cook and compete. One of the cities not on the race itinerary: Chicago.
Chicago food truck drivers have struggled over the years to obey the city’s strict food truck ordinances. Originally, drivers were not allowed to cook in their trucks and could only sell prepared food items. Eventually, the rules changed and cooking onboard became permitted. Problem solved, right? Not exactly.
The onboard cooking was a result of efforts made by the Chicago City Council this past July. The City Council did not stop there. A rule was implemented forbidding food truck operators from parking and doing business within 200 feet of a licensed restaurant. Restaurant owners fear that by parking any closer, food trucks may slow restaurant business.
This may seem fair enough, but drivers are required to use mounted GPS devices so the city and consumers can track their locations. Licensed restaurants even include “restaurants” such as Starbucks and 7-11 stores. Violating this rule results in a fine of up to $2,000.
“We used to park primarily in the Loop, but it’s difficult to find a spot that’s 200 feet away from a restaurant and also legal,” said Megan Keyes, head of marketing for The Southern Mac & Cheese Truck. “Tickets are really expensive.”
Food truck operators throughout the city are having the same issues as the Southern Mac truck. Finding a spot to park in Chicago that is 200 feet away from a restaurant is a feat in itself, and then there is the matter of finding legal parking in those areas. Additionally, trucks may not remain in the same spot for more than two hours at a time.
The Chicago City Council introduced an ordinance Oct. 3 calling for the creation of 23 designated parking stands for food trucks. These will be designated food truck parking stands, capable of handling two food trucks at once.
“Some of the new spots looked like they were pretty good. Some were about four blocks from 600 W. Chicago Ave., which is definitely one of the spots that we go to a lot,” said Steve Maxwell, truck manager of Curried, Chicago’s very first Indian food truck. “I would say that about one-third of the spots are decent and about two-thirds are pretty low traffic.”
Food truck co-owner of Tamale Spaceship, Manny Hernandez, was less than enthused about the new locations.
“We are currently located on Wabash and Van Buren,” said Hernandez. “We do not plan on relocating to any of the 23 designated food truck spots because we are not trying to be in the middle of nowhere.”
The locations, introduced in an ordinance by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, selected the locations through a “collaborative process” that included the city’s Department of Transportation, aldermen and neighborhood businesses. Several of the proposed locations are near DePaul’s Lincoln Park and Loop campuses (see side bar).
“Our weekly schedule has been a rotation of spots, Hyde Park has some good spots,” said Keyes. “We haven’t really studied the list but are really excited about possibly having an easier time finding parking.”
Designated parking spots might help some food truck operators find business, but other obstacles still remain. “Parking, weather, trying to figure out where to go and how much food to make” are some of the problems that plague the food truck business, said Maxwell.
Maxwell later explained that weather might occasionally be an issue, but sometimes drives in extra business.
“The weather might get very cold but our food is very hot so people like that,” he said.
Food truck operators might still be seeking more, but this proposal is a strong first step in the harmonious direction that Chicago’s restaurants and food trucks seem to be heading. The outcome of Emanuel’s proposed ordinance will be known after the next City Council meeting.
Designated Food Truck Spaces
(Pending Ordinance Approval)
3627 N. Southport Ave.
3420 N. Lincoln Ave.
3241 N. Lincoln Ave.
817 W. Belmont Ave.
2934 N. Broadway
1005 W. Wrightwood Ave.
1030 W. Fullerton Ave.
2156 N. Stockton Drive
1262 N. Milwaukee Ave.
1218 N. Milwaukee Ave.
2135 W. Division St.
1155 N. Oakley Blvd.
1615 W. Chicago Ave.
Near West Side
149 N. Ashland Ave.
Near North Side
219 W. Chicago Ave.
450 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive
831 N. Wells St.
930 N. LaSalle Drive