CHICAGO, IL – The truck in Big Star’s parking lot isn’t supposed to be a tease. The fact that it’s been sitting there, idle, for weeks is the result of high hopes: The truck, which Big Star chef Justin Large has named Consuela, has been waiting for the City Council to change the street food laws to make it legal for trucks to cook food to order. Hoping that the laws would change sooner than they have, One Off Hospitality (the restaurant group behind Big Star, Blackbird, Avec, Publican, etc.) bought Consuela fully outfitted (she came from the West Coast, where cooking on trucks is legal). “We wanted to hit the ground running as soon as the law changed,” Large says.
But when it became apparent the laws weren’t going to change anytime soon—and as the truck, which One Off had already sunk a chunk of cash into, sat around not making any money—the company decided to retrofit the Consuela to meet current food-truck standards. The grill, the fryer, the three-compartment sink—the One Off crew concealed all of it with stainless steel counters. “Which is hilarious,” Large says, “because [the sink] is meant for cleaning and keeping things clean and putting out a responsible and safe product. Which leads me to believe that the reason the food-truck law is not passing probably has nothing to do with food-safety issues—it’s probably more [because] brick-and-mortar restaurants [are] pushing back a little bit.”
About a month ago, it looked as if Consuela was finally getting ready to roll—Large says the truck was “to the point where we thought it would pass inspection.” So the Health Department was called, and an inspection was scheduled.
It didn’t go as Large had hoped. “Immediately [the inspector] came on the truck, saw cutting boards, and was like, ‘You guys fail,’?” he says. The presence of removable cutting boards in the truck signaled to the health inspector that One Off might intend to prep food on the truck. So she failed them. (Calls to the Health Department on this matter were not immediately returned.)
Large understands the inspector was merely doing her job. “I’m not bagging on the Health Department at all. It’s not really their fault—they’re just enforcing the laws on the books.” But the failed inspection left One Off with few options. “Our recourse at that point would have been to remove all of that equipment and to get reinspected,” Large says.
They decided instead to do the opposite. They removed the stainless-steel countertops, revealing the cooking equipment again. And as of last week, chef Paul Kahan was suggesting in public that the truck would roll, legal or not.
Talk about Consuela going rogue has been understandably vague for fear of creating the impression that One Off is giving the city the finger. “We want to abide. We want to comply. We really want to comply with the city,” says One Off’s Donnie Madia. “But it’s also: We’re businessmen. We want to comply but we have an unbelievable opportunity. We have a really great product. And we want to share that product with people who can’t get to Big Star.
Find the entire article from Time Out Chicago <here>