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Pair to challenge Evanston’s food-truck limits in court

The Beavers Donuts truck isn't going anywhere for moment. Entrepreneurs James Nuccio Gabriel Wiesen can't operate their food truck Evanstunder

The Beavers Donuts truck isn't going anywhere for the moment. Entrepreneurs James Nuccio and Gabriel Wiesen can't operate their food truck in Evanston under city ordinance stipulating they must be the owner of a brick-and-mortar restaurant in the city. (Bob Seidenberg\Staff Writer)

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Updated: September 9, 2012 6:21AM

Young Rogers Park entrepreneurs James Nuccio and Gabriel Wiesen know their food truck, Beavers Donuts, would be popular with Northwestern University students.

After all, “doughnuts are the new cupcakes,” with the young generation, said Wiesen, and students tried to get the truck with their fried doughnuts and gourmet toppings to make campus stops, much as it does at the University of Chicago.

But so long as Evanston has a rule in place allowing only owners of existing brick-and-mortar restaurants to operate their food trucks in town, the two say they are unfairly prevented from selling their products.

The duo announced Tuesday they planned to file a lawsuit challenging the city’s food truck ordinance as arbitrary and unconstitutional and calling for it to be struck down.

The city’s current restriction “doesn’t serve any legitimate health or safety purpose,” charged Jacob Huebert, associate counsel at the Liberty Justice Center, a public litigation center that is representing Nuccio and Wiesen. “Beavers Donuts fulfills every licensing requirement.”

The city’s current restriction, however, “serves only to protect one group of established business owners from creative competition,” Huebert said.

Evanston approved one of the area’s first food truck ordinances in September 2010, allowing food trucks to prepare food on site so long as they were associated with an existing Evanston-based food establishment.

Hummingbird Kitchens, whose owners operate Campagnola and Union Pizzeria restaurants, received the city’s first food truck license.

The truck specializes in gourmet sandwich foods, prepared on site, and goes out on a sporadic basis.

Local restaurateurs pressed council members to limit food truck owners to those associated with restaurants, fearing an influx of mobile trucks taking business from the restaurants.

The Evanston debate mirrors the evolving rules governing food trucks in Chicago. Until recently, food trucks were allowed to serve only prepared food in Chicago. The city council recently changed the rules to allow cooking inside the trucks, but with other restrictions that left many food truck owners still displeased with the regulations.

Nuccio and Wiesen, after college, at first wanted to open a restaurant but were unable to obtain financing, Huebert said. Instead, they decided to enter a business with lower startup costs, operating a food truck.

The two “were combining two of the city’s most popular cultural trends — gourmet doughnuts and gourmet food trucks,” he said.

The food truck, which serves fried mini-doughnuts with gourmet toppings, is popular at the University of Chicago, where people line up awaiting its arrival, he said.

Wiesen said members of Northwestern University’s Freshman Council originally approached him and Nuccio to bring their truck to Evanston.

He said Beavers Donuts has worked several festivals in Evanston, operating on a temporary permit issued for such events.

He said they were denied a permit to operate a food truck full-time by city health and permit officials, told they were not in compliance with the ordinance.

“The Illinois Constitution guarantees equal protection and due process under law,” said Huebert. “But Evanston isn’t treating people equally. The city is giving restaurant owners a special right that it won’t give to everyone else, for no legitimate reason.”

Wiesen maintained that their truck would prove “complementary” to existing restaurants in Evanston, which are one of the strongest components of the city’s economy.

The city issued a response Tuesday from Grant Farrar, Evanston’s corporation counsel, that said in part:

“In their race to the courthouse steps, the plaintiffs refuse to acknowledge the city of Evanston’s Home Rule authority, nor are they acquainted with the legislative history on this matter.... We will aggressively defend the city’s ordinance in relation to this complaint, such complaint which further burdens the already heavily crowded court docket in Cook County.”

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