Why food trucks are ‘on the brink’ in Chicago

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

It’s hard enough running a profitable small business nowadays. But if you’re a food truck vendor in Chicago it’s getting pretty darn close to impossible.

Back in 2012, the city passed a regulation which established 37 “mobile food vehicle stands” around town, restricted food truck operations to not be within 200 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants and required them to vacate their location if there for more than two hours. Oh, and they were also required to equip themselves with Global Positioning System devices to track their location. Those are some pretty onerous rules.

Not surprisingly, the ordinance was mostly ignored, and as any Chicagoan can report, food trucks could be found just about anywhere in the city – even a few hundred feet from City Hall and well outside of one of the 37 restricted zones.

Well, the law caught up with these scofflaws. Late last month, after whistle-blowing reports from the Chicago Sun-Times and a local TV station, the city’s mayor issued what the Sun-Times called a “blitzkrieg of citations and fines” against food truck owners caught “thumbing their noses” at the city’s much-ballyhooed 2012 ordinance.

The Illinois Food Truck Owners Association was not happy with the crackdown, calling the city’s rules so “blatantly crazy” that they have “led to some members of our community parking in inappropriate locations and acting in a desperate fashion,” the Sun-Times reported. Lawsuits have already been filed by at least two food truck operators.

Designating locations wasn’t a bad idea. Matt Kirouac, who blogs at dining site Zagat wished his city could be more like Portland or Austin, with set areas to operate and not the “social media-fueled dash” to “hunt down roving vehicles” that it became.

“It’s why so many trucks have tried to simplify things by setting up shop in high-traffic areas, like the Loop, where thousands of workers and passersby patronize their businesses on a regular basis.” he wrote this week. “It’s a smart model, aside from the fact that trucks frequently park in loading zones, bus stops and other regulated no-go areas. This — coupled with the fact that brick-and-mortar restaurants don’t appreciate the blatantly direct competition — has pushed the food truck issue to the brink.”

The crackdown is already having its impact on some food truck owners in the city…and likely driving away other potential entrepreneurs.  That’s a shame.

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