CHICAGO, IL - If you’ve been seeing less of your favorite Chicago food trucks this spring, that’s because police have been cracking down and running them off their usual locations, food truck operators say.
Some vendors say Chicago police have gone so far as to track their planned whereabouts via social media — trucks often announce their locations for the day on Facebook and Twitter — and intercept them before they open.
Lupita Kuri, owner of the mobile bakery Sweet Ride, said in one such incident her driver had just pulled up but had yet to serve any customers when a police officer approached and told her he was ticketing her — based on her Facebook posting.
“You can’t get me for premeditated selling of a cupcake,” Kuri said her driver protested.
In that case, the officer eventually relented, but ticketed her anyway for parking in a loading zone, Kuri said.
On other occasions, Kuri and her fellow food-truck drivers have received tickets for operating too close to an existing food establishment, which can carry a $500 fine and more than wipe out a day’s receipts.
Amy Le, owner of the DucknRoll truck, believes the crackdown has been especially severe since a group of food truck operators met with city officials last month to press their case for an ordinance that would make it easier for them to do business.
During that meeting, she said, city officials casually asked about the best truck locations. In the days immediately afterward, police showed up at each spot and either ticketed the trucks or ordered them to move. Among the popular spots targeted were: Randolph and Franklin; Superior and Fairbanks, and 600 W. Chicago near the offices of Groupon, whose employees not surprisingly are very fond of food trucks.
“We didn’t realize it was going to be used against us,” Le said.
A police department spokesman denied any citywide enforcement directive concerning food trucks but was unsure whether a particular district had made them a priority.
If you don’t get downtown much, then you might not realize the summer of 2011 marked the first real emergence of food trucks in Chicago. By the end of the summer, it seemed like they were everywhere.
Judging by the long lines during lunch, young office workers especially like them, despite restrictions that preclude operators from cooking or preparing food on site.
Obviously, existing brick-and-mortar restaurants feel much less kindly about these mobile businesses, especially when they’re parked on the street outside their establishments.
I’m sympathetic to the competitive strain the trucks can put on restaurants paying rent and facing strict regulations of their own. But the fact is that people like the trucks and want the variety they offer. Eventually the city must recognize the demand.
As a friend of mine observed: If a restaurant can’t compete with a rival that doesn’t even offer its customers a place to sit, what does that say about the restaurant?
The lack of headway on an ordinance has prompted the Institute for Justice’s Clinic on Entrepreneurship to schedule a “mobile food symposium” for Saturday in the auditorium at the University of Chicago Law School, 1111 E. 60th St.
The symposium, titled “My Streets, My Eats,” will explore such topics as: “Chicago, What’s the hold up? The need to reform the windy city’s vending laws.”
Find the entire article by Mark Brown at the Chicago Sun Times <here>