Chicago puts the brakes on upwardly mobile food truck operators.

schnitzel king

Food trucks have been one of the success stories of the tough economy, creating a niche market and giving foodie entrepreneurs an opportunity to start small. But while Chicago practically invented local street food (Chicago-style hot dogs, Chicago-style pizza), the trucks are rarely spotted in the Windy City. Thanks to a local ordinance, food trucks are effectively banned from the busiest neighborhoods, leaving their operators to attract customers in areas without the foot traffic needed to build their businesses.

Last year, Schnitzel King owners Kristin Casper and Greg Burke rebuilt a 1970s Postal Jeep and began cruising the city selling Mr. Burke’s recipe for schnitzel. “Most people think schnitzel is a sausage,” Ms. Casper says. “We enjoy bringing a bit of our Eastern European heritage to Chicago. This is both of our dreams come true.”

If it lasts. Since the 1990s, the food truck regulations in Chicago have been among the worst in the country. Food truck operators haven’t been allowed to cook or to prepare food in their vehicles, meaning they couldn’t put rice in a burrito or mustard on a hot dog. They could only operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., meaning no breakfast business. And to pass muster with city code, all food had to be prepackaged in kitchens off-site, preventing the trucks from serving items prepared fresh for their customers.

Under an ordinance passed by the City Council in July, some rules were changed, allowing mobile chefs to prepare food on board as they do in every other major city. But according to food truck operators, the worst rules were left in place.

Under city law, the food trucks are required to stay 200 feet from any restaurant. Because the language of the regulation is vague, “restaurant” covers any store that serves food, from Starbucks to 7-11, meaning that in the downtown business district known as the “Loop” it is virtually impossible for a truck to find a spot more than 200 feet from a “restaurant.”

Penalties for non-compliance are stiff—running $1,000 to $2,000, roughly four times the penalty for a health-code violation. There’s no playing the catch-me-if-you-can odds with the police either. The new law requires all vendors to install a GPS device in their trucks at their own expense, which then streams their location to the city. So if they’re not where they’re supposed to be, the tickets roll in automatically.

Find the entire article at the Wall Street Journal <here>

Schnitzel King

Twitter: @KingSchnitzel
Mobile food truck slingin’ schnitzel sandwiches Chicago style & authentic Eastern European delights | On a mission to make you say ‘Holy SCHNITZEL that’s good!’