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Restaurants get moving against food trucks

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

If Chicago legalizes mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises, they should be confined to “food deserts” and neighborhoods with a shortage of restaurants, the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association suggested Monday.

“If these things really work by social media, they could just go to food deserts. There are plenty of neighborhoods in the city that have a shortage of restaurants and grocery stores or late-night places to eat,” said the association’s president, Sheila O’Grady, Mayor Daley’s longest-serving chief of staff.

“The thing that appeals to people is they think some fabulous chef will be producing some amazing street food. They use Twitter to say, ‘I’m gonna be at this corner at this time. Come meet me.’ If that’s really how it works, people will follow you regardless of where or who you are.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last week that Chicago restaurant owners were mobilizing to try to block City Hall from creating what they call an “unlevel playing field” for their brick-and-mortar businesses — by legalizing mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises.

An ordinance to do just that is now before the City Council and could come up for a hearing next month.

On Monday, O’Grady shared those concerns even though her board has yet to weigh in.

She argued that the protective bubble included in the ordinance — allowing mobile food trucks to be located 200 feet away from a restaurant and 100 feet from any retail store that sells food — is too small to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.

O’Grady warned that other cities that allow mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises have had “real problems with enforcement.”

“My concerns are that there won’t be an infrastructure within the city to enforce the ordinance.”

Matt Maroni, chief and owner of Gaztro-Wagon, a mobile food truck and storefront that specializes in modern street fare, helped write the ordinance that Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) introduced in July.

Maroni scoffed at the suggestion that the protective bubble around stationary restaurants be enlarged or that mobile food trucks be confined to “food deserts.”

“Competition is what drives the economy. To say that a restaurant can set up wherever they want, but you’re gonna confine me to food deserts — I don’t understand the whole gist of why restaurants need to be protected,” Maroni said.

Mobile foot trucks currently are permitted in Chicago, but they can only sell prepackaged foods.

Waguespack’s ordinance would legalize cooking on the premises and establish strict operating conditions to ensure sanitation and avoid unfair competition with stationary restaurants.

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