Mobile food truck plan gets green light from City Council panel
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com July 19, 2012 5:08PM
Tiffany Kurtz, left, owner of the Flirty Cupcakes food truck, sells to customers in Chicago. File Photo. (AP Photo/Sitthixay Ditthavong)
Updated: August 21, 2012 6:34AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to legalize mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises cleared its first legislative hurdle Thursday after a marathon hearing that featured grousing from both sides.
The City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection approved the ordinance on a voice vote, but not before the voices of dissent were loudly heard.
Food truck owners complained about the mayor’s proposal to require food trucks to stay 200 feet away from brick-and-mortar restaurants. They also bemoaned the plan to restrict them to designated “food stands” in high-density areas and require food trucks to install GPS devices so the city can track their movements and impose hefty fines.
“I didn’t quit my job eight months ago and give up 5,000 stock option shares to become an entrepreneur to be defeated by divisive legislation,” said Amy Le, owner and operator of the Duck N Roll food truck.
“My mother owned two restaurants. She fought her way over here from Vietnam. I was born in a refugee camp. To sacrifice so much, I don’t want to see it lost because there’s unjust and unfair regulations that would prohibit me from operating my business. The 200-foot rule does that. ... Maybe we increase the number of stands. … Ten spots in the downtown Loop for 55 trucks is not going to be sufficient.”
Tiffany Kurtz, owner of nine Flirty Cupcakes food trucks, warned that “innovation can’t happen with handcuffs on,” which is what the 200-foot buffer would slap on food trucks.
She showed aldermen a map of the downtown area with large swaths of orange covering prohibited areas and tiny dots of white for the few places where food trucks could go.
“I can’t fundamentally compete and thrive if I have to operate in these little white specks. How is this fair to us? Why is it that we need to protect everything that’s in the orange, but we can’t be protected even a little bit? All we’re asking for is a fair opportunity to compete on this playing field,” Kurtz said to the applause of a standing-room-only crowd at the four-hour hearing.
Some restaurant owners were equally upset. They’re afraid food trucks will cut into their business at a time when many restaurants are struggling to stay alive.
“Restaurants operate on the slimmest of margins averaging four percent annually. Unfair competition could lead to empty storefronts, lost jobs and fewer tax dollars. ... Now is not the time to cultivate an industry that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line,” said Glenn Keefer, owner of Keefer’s Restaurant, 20 W. Kinzie.
Keefer even went so far as to question where food truck operators would relieve themselves.
“Truck operators are going to head out and be on the road for as long as they can. A 30- or 45-minute trip back to a shared kitchen commissary on the West Side will not be part of the game plan. There has to be a way to avoid the paper cup in the back of the truck,” he said.
License Committee Chairman Emma Mitts (37th) acknowledged that “nobody is particularly happy” with the mayor’s ordinance, “which is a good indication that we are arriving at a compromise that can work.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, said it’s time to end the two-year-long stalemate that has stunted Chicago’s growth as one of the culinary capitals of the world.
“This ordinance is not the be-all-and-end-all. But, it’s important that we get the truck rolling and start working with this industry. ... The sooner we get going, the more we can learn from each other,” he said.