Chicago, IL: Facing Critics, Rahm Puts Pedal to Metal on Food Trucks


If food trucks can co-exist with brick-and-mortar restaurants in 50 other cities, they can in Chicago, one of the “culinary capitals of the world,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday, defending a compromise that has both sides grousing.

Emanuel said he campaigned on a promise to “get off dead center” on the issue, and he is determined to break a two-year stalemate that has stunted Chicago’s culinary growth.

“We [were sitting] around as a city with restaurants saying, `No way,’ and food truck operators saying, `No rules,’ and . . . going nowhere fast,” the mayor said.

“The other cities — San Francisco, Seattle, New York — they’re not smarter than us. So, I said we’re gonna . . . find common ground to move forward. I’ve now introduced an ordinance that, in my view, moves us forward. Other people will make changes along the way. But my goal here is to find common ground, move us forward, not stare off at each other and do nothing and wait two to three years while other cities move forward.”

The mayor noted that some restaurant owners got started in food trucks and graduated to brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“Chicago is one of the culinary capitals of the world. We can do this. We can move forward, rather than talk about something and make no progress when it’s essential for the economy to move forward. I think we have the right type of resolution. It may not make everybody 100 percent happy. But doing nothing is not a choice we can make as a city,” he said.

Some food truck owners have complained about the mayor’s proposal to require food trucks to stay 200 feet away from restaurants. They’re also unhappy about Emanuel’s 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.

Some restaurant owners are equally upset with the mayor’s plan to legalize food trucks with cooking on the premises. They’re afraid it will cut into their business and create unfair competition.

Trying to referee the dispute is Emanuel, who introduced his proposed compromise at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Pressed on why he proposed the 200-foot buffer, the mayor hinted that he’s open to further compromise.

“Some people may come back at 150 [feet] Some people may come back at 250,” he said.

“There’s no perfect [solution]. It’s not like 150 or 200 [feet] is gonna get [people to say], ‘It’s solved. Thank you.’ But 200 seems to be the right place to strike, what I would call, the golden mean balance between the bricks and mortars and the trucks.”

Emanuel’s ordinance — placed on the fast-track in hopes of authorizing scores of rolling restaurants this summer — is carefully crafted to strike a balance.

To appease brick-and-mortar restaurants, mobile food trucks would be required to meet three basic criteria.

They would have to set up shop at least 200 feet away from any licensed restaurant. They would have to be in a location where they could “legally park.” And they could not remain in any one location for more than two hours at a time.

The 200-foot restriction would not apply between the midnight and 5 a.m. citywide.

The mayor’s ordinance would also create designated “food stands” in “highly congested,” parking-starved areas that would give mobile food trucks “defined places where they know they would be able to operate.”

Food stands would be exempt from the 200-foot buffer and be 40 feet long, enough for roughly two parking spaces.

A minimum of five stands would be located in each of six designated community areas: the Loop, the Near West Side, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Near North and West Town. Food stands may also be built in other parts of the city.

Mobile food trucks would also be required to install GPS systems that would be used to “monitor and enforce truck locations and activity.” The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would be empowered to cap the number of mobile food truck licenses and “impose a lottery system, in the event” that a crush of mobile food trucks caused “oversaturation or traffic congestion and safety concerns.”

If a cap is imposed, no one applicant could be issued more than ten percent of the licenses, each of them for a $1,000 fee.