New food truck ordinance to go to full Chicago City Council

July 19, 2012

Quinn Ford

(WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

Chicago food truck owners could be allowed to cook on their trucks soon.

A city council committee voted Thursday to approve a new food truck ordinance to replace the existing one. Under the current ordinance, food can be made in a licensed kitchen off-site, then stored and sold on mobile food trucks.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen said the change will allow a lot more entrepreneurs to enter the business and promote the city’s culinary scene.

But some food truck owners aren’t happy with the new plan: Tiffany Kurtz, who owns the food truck Flirty Cupcakes, told the committee on Thursday they should lighten some of the regulations.

“We won’t succeed playing by these rules,” Kurtz said. “The numbers don’t add up.”

According to the proposed ordinance, food trucks can’t be within 200 feet of a licensed restaurant. Violators can be hit with fines upwards of $1,000. Kurtz said that leaves practically nowhere for her or other food trucks to operate downtown.

Aldermen responded saying the 200-foot rule is there to protect restaurants from losing a significant portion of their business. They also said there was viable space for food trucks outside the Loop in the city’s neighborhoods.

Matt Geller from the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association told aldermen the city of Los Angeles outlawed a 100-foot rule in the 1970s.  

“The market has worked this out in Los Angeles, and you’re not seeing a large-scale collapse of the restaurant business. And we have a huge restaurant business,” Geller said.

Geller said Los Angeles has shown that food trucks might not steal business from restaurants.

“What you’re thinking is there’s a finite amount of customers. What we’ve seen is customers eat out three times as much when they’re around an area with food trucks,” Geller said.

Under the new ordinance, food trucks would not be able to operate between the hours of 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. unless the ward’s alderman permitted them to do so. The trucks would also be required to install mounted GPS so their locations would be available to the public.

Aldermen also said a minimum of five “food stands” would be established in six areas of Chicago: Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Near North, West Town, Near West Side and the Loop. Approximately two trucks could park at each of the food stands for free for a maximum of two hours. Food trucks could also park in metered spots and private property, as long as they were not within 200 feet of a restaurant.

The full city council is expected to vote on the ordinance next week.