CHICAGO, IL – In a recent post in Crain’s Chicago, restaurant owner Glenn Keefer calls out the current Chicago food truck owners by claiming they are “peddling substandard fare while often breaking rules, clogging traffic and littering our streets”. We need a little time to wrap our arms about this outrageous article, but you can expect an open letter to Mr. Keefer very shortly.
Here’s the article:
Chicago deserves better rules on food trucks
Chicago is one of the most competitive and culturally diverse culinary destinations in the world, home to James Beard Award-winning chefs, Michelin-starred restaurants and one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. The city deserves mobile-food trucks, but it deserves better than the food-dispensing vehicles now peddling substandard fare while often breaking rules, clogging traffic and littering our streets.
Hey, I like a pork belly taco as much as the next guy, and the idea of grabbing safe, well-prepared street food is enticing, but the city, state and county are billions in debt. Now is not the time to cultivate an industry that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line.
The original food-truck ordinance floated by Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, required a $660 license and fees for inspections and a commissary license totaling less than $1,000. Compare that to the near $70,000 that places like ours pay in property taxes annually while we employ nearly 100 people.
We must find a way to prevent unscrupulous truck operators from parking in front of the highest-priced real estate in the city to siphon off customers headed to businesses paying property taxes, rent and fees for signs, loading zones, building permits. Some hail the renegade truck as the ideal form of entrepreneurship, the ultimate shoestring startup. That’s not superior business acumen and grit; that’s piracy.
Restaurants operate on the slimmest of margins, averaging 4 percent annually. Keefer’s Kaffe on West Kinzie Street sells sandwiches, soups and salads in the same price range as food trucks, yet we pay downtown rent and big real estate taxes. We could not compete with a truck paying only $660 a year. Some call the food trucks a better business model, but unfair competition could lead to empty storefronts, lost jobs and fewer tax dollars.
Here’s a suggestion — a pilot program of some 50 trucks, licensed in a system of fixed-site street permits, with fixed hours and fees reflective of their true costs for the city. Here’s how it would work:
Assigned locations: By assigning locations (perhaps on a rotating basis to include prime spots and those in food deserts), food-truck operators would have the confidence that the food prepared in their commercial, approved and inspected commissary would not go to waste because a legal parking place in the city could not be found on a given day. Abuse of no-parking zones would be circumvented.
Enforcement: Police would not have to be bothered with phone calls from disgruntled restaurant owners seeking to remove a brazen truck operator from the curb in front of their business, nor would they have to use a tape measure to ensure those trucks remain a legal distance away.
Traffic: Food-truck locations would be situated in such a way as to prevent backups and unsafe conditions.
Litter: Since the spaces are assigned, it would be clear who is responsible for litter generated by food service without the cleanup crew all restaurants employ.
Sanitation: With a fixed location, the operator could establish regular use of a toilet for cooks at a nearby building and the Department of Health could make unannounced inspections to ensure that critical sanitation practices are in place and that a licensed food worker is present at all times, as is required for brick-and-mortar restaurants. After all, we are talking about food preparation in very tight quarters, with limited equipment and no bathrooms. Complaints of food-borne illness would have a chance of redress.
I do not have all the answers, but whatever we do, let’s craft an ordinance that addresses all trucks and let’s craft one that won’t have us looking back with regret as we do with our parking meter fiasco.
Find the original article <here>