After a protracted struggle by city restaurateurs, Chicago's aldermen now have before them a draft ordinance that would allow food trucks to cook and serve food across the city.
A vibrant and growing food-truck scene has emerged in cities across the country, including New York, Los Angeles, Portland and San Francisco. Trucks run the gamut from no-frills, cheap street food to mobile gourmet, and offer up cuisine from Mexico to Vietnam, the Middle East to the American South.
But to this day, Chicago's ordinances regulating "mobile food facilities" have prohibited trucks from cooking fresh food on the go, as the Chicago Reader has reported.
The Reader's Mike Sula has followed the food-truck ordinance since it was cooked up by two local chefs, Phillip Foss and Matt Maroni. In April, Sula wrote about the extensive obstacles facing mobile food distribution in the city:
Food trucks and pushcarts aren't illegal in Chicago, but they're heavily restricted. You can't do any cooking, cutting, or food preparation of any kind on board: everything must be precooked and packaged in a licensed kitchen. You can't stop anywhere for more than two hours, and you can't sell anything after 10 PM. So while a handful of businesses like Edgewater's Vee-Vee's African Restaurant are able to operate trucks above the radar, serving prepackaged meals to cabbies and others on the go, others that prepare food onboard are doing it illegally.
But when Foss and Maroni independently pitched the idea to their respective ward aldermen, Vi Daley (no relation) and Scott Waguespack, momentum to lift the restrictions began to pick up. Foss and Maroni became aware of each other's actions through Sula's reporting, and started a website, ChicagoFoodTrucks.com, to advocate for the changes.
Meanwhile, Daley and Waguespack met with officials from the city's Health Department, as well as the Business Affairs and Consumer Protections Department, which governs licensing. Working with those officials, they drafted the measure that is now before the City Council.
The measure (PDF) would allow for preparation of fresh foods on mobile food facilities and commissaries, which would be a big win for food-truck proponents. It does keep some restrictions in place, however. Trucks can't park within 200 feet of competing restaurants, or within 100 feet of any restaurant without that restaurant owner's permission. Also, if approved, they might be restricted in certain areas of the city due to concerns about congestion.
It would also establish a $660 licensing fee for food trucks, though as Sula points out, "that--like every other part of the draft--is open to debate."
Any vote on the measure wouldn't take place for some time yet. In the interim, chef Matt Maroni is going ahead with his "Gaztro-Wagon." He'll be driving around the city this weekend, selling (for now) pre-packaged salads and naanwiches everywhere from the Loop to Lincoln Square to Wicker Park.
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