Restaurant-owning alderman demands limits on mobile food truck proposal
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com June 16, 2011 1:00AM
Updated: August 3, 2011 10:08PM
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather’s Restaurants, demanded Wednesday that brick-and-mortar restaurants like his own be protected before Chicago legalizes mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises.
Tunney acknowledged that Mayor Rahm Emanuel campaigned on a promise to lift the ban and “wants to get the ball rolling” on legalizing mobile food trucks one year after Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) proposed the idea.
But, as the new chairman of the City Council’s Economic Development Committee that will consider the ordinance, Tunney said he is determined to forge a compromise that “protects brick-and-mortar restaurants” concerned about an unlevel playing field.
The ordinance that Waguespack re-introduced at last week’s City Council meeting would allow mobile food trucks to be located 200 feet away from a restaurant and 100 feet from any retail store that sells food.
Tunney refused to say how large the buffer should be.
He would only say, “One of the major issues is spacing from brick-and-mortar restaurants. We’ve got work to do. We need to hear from all sides. We need to make sure we protect … restaurants and foster a trend that, I think, is gonna be here for a while.”
Glenn Keefer, managing partner of Keefer’s Restaurant, argued that mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises should be required to “stay out of the Central Business District” altogether.
“It’s so densely populated with restaurants that have spent a fortune and are carrying the ball on paying for police, Streets and Sanitation, the Fire Department and McCormick Place,” Keefer said, referring to property taxes and the downtown restaurant tax.
“These guys are gonna come into our neighborhood for a $600 license? It’s completely unfair. Why would anybody want to take a chance and mortgage their house [to open a restaurant] when these guys are gonna be in the neighborhood selling out of the back of a truck for literally no investment?”
Mobile food trucks are currently permitted in Chicago, but they can only sell pre-packaged foods.
Waguespack likened that prohibition to the city’s now-repealed ban on foie gras for the “negative light” that it sheds on the city’s business climate in general and on Chicago’s culinary scene in particular.
Waguespack said he’s open to expanding the protective bubble to 250 feet, which would put mobile food trucks “a few buildings away” from restaurants.
But, he’s also concerned about a legal challenge. When El Paso, Texas, tried to protect its brick-and-mortar restaurants from rolling competition, a court overturned the buffer zone, Waguespack said.
“We do live in America. We do live in a capitalist society. It’s about choice and competition. They’re trying to stymie that,” Waguespack said.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sheila O’Grady has suggested that mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises be confined to “food deserts” and neighborhoods with a shortage of restaurants.
On Wednesday, O’Grady said she has “never been against the concept” of rolling restaurants and is meeting with Chicago aldermen to find out “what works for them.”
“After we have those conversations, we’ll put together a plan that will work well for all the stakeholders and move the industry forward,” she said.