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Will Your Next Alderman Support Food Trucks?

By Melissa McEwen in Food on Feb 12, 2015 5:00PM

Here at Chicagoist we wanted to highlight a food policy issue for this month’s Aldermaniac election. We choose food trucks because they are popular among a group of people who tends to not vote in these elections—Generation Y. In addition to having to do with food and drink, it is also about how our city chooses to regulate businesses.

While many cities have thriving food truck scenes, many food trucks in Chicago have gone out of business. Despite that the food truck scene in Chicago is diverse—from The Salsa Truck with their excellent companion restaurant to the Southern Pitch Food Truck. We’d love to see how it grows without the burden of unnecessary regulations.

Specifically we asked candidates with an email address or a contact form the following:

Would you support repealing the rule that says food trucks must be 200 feet away from a restaurant in order to operate?

The law in question can be found in the Chicago City Code ยง 7-38-115(f).

When the law was put into place, the Council was transparent that the rules purpose was to protect restaurants from competition from food trucks.

Currently the rule is being challenged in court by the Institute For Justice, but that’s a slow process. In the meantime the Alderman could change the rule. Below we feature the opinions of many candidates, some who disagree and some who agree. Regardless of how you feel we encourage you to find out your ward and make sure to vote in the election. Early voting started Monday and the main election day is Feb. 24, 2015.

Ward 1

YES- Joe Moreno

Some of the best restaurants in the world began as humble food carts. Those in opposition of reform often posit the notion that food trucks will negatively impact nearby restaurants. To say that these restaurants could be upended by a food truck disregards the quality of service found in these places. In the 1st Ward we have so many award-winning food establishments that have made a name for themselves by perfecting their art. I think they'll be just fine. Section f of city code 7-38-115 makes it virtually impossible for food trucks to operate in high-density areas where the demand is clearly present. We love food in the 1st Ward whether it comes from a food truck or a traditional sit-down place.

Ward 2

YES- Steve Niketopoulos

Yes, I think it is a completely different experience to dine indoors and visit a food truck. I understand there need to be checks and balances in place to make sure no one takes advantage, but I see food trucks as small businesses. As an example of how food trucks can lead to more specialty restaurants, "5411" used to be a food truck, and with success they expanded into a sit down restaurant in Wicker Park. I think food trucks are fun, a fixture for immigrant populations, and often partner with charities or a good cause. I think they have a lack of representation in the city because of their small business nature, so I'd like to see some of these codes revisited.

MAYBE- Bita Buenrostro

I support the safe operation of Food Trucks and the innovation that they have brought to Chicago's hosting and tourism industry. Right now, the question about the food truck exclusion zone is a more complex issue than a simple yes or no. Before considering repealing or reducing the zone, I need to perform research in our 2nd ward. As your Alderman, I will be speaking with a good number of restaurant owners and food truck operators, Chambers of Commerce, and residents in our 2nd Ward to come to an informed opinion that best represents their needs. At this time, I am not able to give a commitment to such a proposal without understanding the likely impacts on commerce and economy and jobs.

Ward 3

NO - Pat Dowell

Ice Cubed, which has now gone out of business, at a food truck hearing in 2012 (Avi Schwab/Chicagoist Flickr Pool)

Ward 7

YES- Chevette Valentine

Yes I would, I feel that just as there are restaurants in the area that also pose competition to the other food service providers, the rule should be omitted. The purpose of the food truck is to make purchasing a fresh and hot meal in a timely manner, many of the customers who frequent trucks do so for timing and cost reasons, but mainly for the convenience of not having to travel far distances and [lose] time from work.

I would stand behind repealing said rule, and would present said amended rule to the Mayor in confidence he would understand the rationality and reasoning, as he is the first to support the food truck industry!

NO- Keiana Barrett

Presently, changing the law is not a legislative priority, given the vast array of community development challenges the 7th Ward must confront. While I recognize the importance of small businesses to the economy, the 7th Ward must build comprehensively, with robust commercial corridors before focusing on making changes such as those proposed.

Editor's note: the original statement sent to us by Barrett's campaign was exactly identical to Joe Moore's, which was not available publicly. We asked if the language had come from an industry group and did not receive a response.

Ward 9

YES- Ted Williams

Ward 26

MAYBE- Adam Corona

Currently I am not opposed to repealing the rule in question. Within the 26th ward community there is the vibrant and beautiful Humboldt Park, which is an area which could present a great location for these food trucks to conduct their operations, but due to the proximity of certain restaurants they are currently unable. For a community as diverse as the 26th Ward many residents are unable to find a variety of choice in their options of food. The presence of these food trucks could, at least in theory, offer a solution to this problem. In allowing the food trucks to operate near or in the park people would not only be encouraged to visit the ward more frequently, but also allow for a more diverse selection of food.

My only concern regarding a change of the law would be competition. The people who either own or are employed by these food trucks might be members of the 26th ward community, but most would be transient businesses. If non-competition clauses could be added or be used to amend the current law I would feel comfortable that these food trucks could operate in a way that is economically beneficial to the community, rather than compete with local businesses hiring local workers.

Ward 36

NO- Christopher Vittorio

I would not support repealing this law.

Ward 43

YES- Caroline Vickrey

As a huge fan of the Austin, Texas, food truck craze (my son goes to school in Austin and we have dined on many a fine meal at amazing food trucks, as well as in the many fine restaurants that have emerged nearby out of the culture of excellent food), I wholeheartedly support a repeal of the 200 foot ban.

Ward 44

YES- Scott Davis

I would be in favor of the repeal and generally would support less regulation of Chicago food trucks because I think they are a great way for entrepreneurs to start out and eventually expand into the restaurant business once they establish a successful food truck. The current restrictions are designed to protect existing restaurant owners and I believe we should repeal the ordinance to encourage competition in Chicago.

Ward 45

YES- John Arena

Alderman Arena asked me to pass on to you an answer to your question regarding repealing the rule that says food trucks must be 200 feet away from a restaurant in order to operate.

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is Alderman Arena voted against a food truck ordinance because it was too restrictive. The ordinance called for 32 locations in which food trucks would be able to operate within 200 feet of an existing relationship, but the ordinance didn't include where those areas would be.

Ald. Arena supports lifting the ban entirely and letting food trucks operate in a competitive environment. Easing restrictions on food trucks gives entrepreneurs greater flexibility. In New York City, for example, Shake Shack began as a food cart, and now it has expanded throughout NYC and beyond. We should encourage that kind of economic development in Chicago.

The idea of an either/or choice between food trucks and brick-and-mortar locations is a false choice, because many food trucks are associated with a brick-and-mortar location. This is just another way of helping restaurants serve food.- Dave Miranda, campaign spokesperson

Ward 49

NO- Joe Moore

I would not support changing the law at this time. The law appears to be working and strikes a reasonable balance by legalizing food truck entrepreneurs and increasing consumers' dining options while at the same time recognizing the important role that traditional restaurants play in Chicago's economy.

Ward 50

YES- Peter Sifnotis

As a candidate who strongly objects to the obstacles our city puts in the path of small businesses, I'd be happy to answer your question.

I believe the ordinance prohibiting food trucks from operating with 200 feet of fixed restaurants is designed to protect established businesses and prevents the creation of jobs. It limits the ability to operate a business and reduces opportunity for entrepreneurs. This comes at a time when Chicago is growing at a rate much slower than other major metropolitan areas. The requirements set forth in the food truck ordinance seriously stymie the growth of an industry that can increase the marketability of this city, ensure only the well-connected can start-up successfully, limit innovation, and impact the quality of life for our citizens.