CHICAGO, IL – The jibarito sandwich is a Chicago invention featuring seared steak, lettuce, tomato and cheese between hot fried plantains.

red tapeBut the Jibarito Stop food truck may never serve its namesake sandwich. That’s because the dish needs to be cooked to order, something Cely Rodriguez and Moraima Fuentes have lost hope of doing on the truck they own.

Though food truck operators have long sought permission for onboard cooking, not a single Chicago truck has been licensed for it since the practice was legalized in July.

The process of getting a license is just too daunting, according to Rodriguez and Fuentes, who cite bad experiences with city bureaucracy, steep additional costs and the need to retrofit equipment among the reasons.

“I think many food truck owners are hesitant to even pursue cooking onboard because of their haunting experience with working with the city,” Rodriguez wrote in an email. It was frustrating enough just to get a license that allows the truck to serve prepackaged foods, she wrote.

Of the 109 entrepreneurs who have applied for the Mobile Food Preparer licenses that allow onboard cooking, none has met the city’s requirements, according to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

“The city wants to see a thriving food truck industry that also maintains important health and safety standards that are in place to protect the public,” said Business Affairs spokeswoman Jennifer Lipford. The department has held multiple workshops for businesses and offers individual consultations, she said.

Some food truck operators blame the holdup on Chicago Department of Public Health officials who cite numerous problems and offer few solutions. But Lipford, who works with the Health Department on the licensing process, says only four of the 109 applicants have returned for follow-up consultations after applying.

“We want to see more food trucks and we want to work with people, but we can’t work with them if they don’t come back,” Lipford said.

Gabriel Wiesen, a food truck operator who also runs Midwest Food Trucks, part of a company that outfits food trucks for cities all over the nation, said Chicago’s code is “one of the most, if not the most, stringent in the country.”

While most of its provisions are similar to those in other major cities, Wiesen said, Chicago’s code includes rules on ventilation and gas line equipment that “are meetable but extremely cumbersome and can raise the price of outfitting a truck by $10,000 to $20,000.”

Wiesen said the additional ventilation equipment (with intake and exhaust fans similar to those in brick-and-mortar kitchens) also raises the height of trucks to 13 feet, making certain Chicago underpasses impassable.

Find the entire article by Monica Eng at the Chicago Tribune <here>