By Brian L. Cox | Chicago Tribune
James Nuccio and Gabriel Wiesen want to sell gourmet doughnuts and coffee from their colorful food truck on the streets of Evanston. But a 2010 ordinance only allows businesses that have “bricks and mortar” restaurants in Evanston to venture onto city streets with a food truck.
Nuccio and Wiesen, the owners of Chicago-based Beavers Coffee & Donuts, announced Tuesday that they have filed a lawsuit they hope will force the city to allow them to roll into Evanston. A city official said the law was crafted so that existing restaurants would not be harmed by mobile vendors swooping in to gobble up customers.
The Liberty Justice Center filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, asking the court to strike down the ordinance as anti-competitive and unconstitutional, according to Jacob Huebert, associate counsel with the Chicago-based organization.
“I believe we’re on the side of what’s right and what’s just,” Wiesen said during a news conference Tuesday morning beside his food truck, parked in the 600 block of Davis Street in downtown Evanston. “We have a tremendous amount of people that want us to come, particularly around (Northwestern) University.”
“We were dismayed to find that Evanston won’t give us the chance to serve the people here who want our products just because we don’t own a restaurant,” Wiesen said.
Huebert said the truck meets or exceeds all state and county health and safety standards, and the only thing keeping the truck off the streets of Evanston is the ordinance.
“They have fans in Evanston who would love to buy their coffee and doughnuts if only they were allowed do to so,” Huebert said. “Jim and Gabriel have everything they need to succeed in Evanston except government permission.”
Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city had not seen the lawsuit. But he called the ordinance fair.
“We were trying to craft a balance between those who have the food trucks and those that have existing restaurants,” he said. “Here in the city of Evanston we want to make sure we regulate them on our own terms.
“It’s a careful balance, supporting local businesses but also not endangering their livelihood,” Bobkiewicz added. “Food trucks are an important part of the culinary scene in lots of communities, and I think we’ve seen the beginnings of that in Evanston. We think as time goes on food trucks will continue to be a part of the dining scene here in Evanston.”
The city will aggressively defend the ordinance in court, according to Grant Farrar, Evanston’s city attorney.
“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,” Farrar said in a statement.
Food trucks often are equipped with stoves, refrigerators, ovens and many of the other appliances found in the kitchens of traditional restaurants — but their overhead and operating costs are typically much lower than stationary dining places.
Chicago last month controversially expanded its food truck ordinance to allow cooking aboard the vehicles, longer hours of operation and special stands for the trucks in busy neighborhoods.
Wiesen, 26, said Beavers Coffee & Donuts started operating in Chicago in December.
“In today’s economy, young people just out of college can’t count on someone else to give them a job anymore,” he said. “They need to create opportunities for themselves. Jim and I decided to do that by starting Beavers Coffee & Donuts.”
“Saying that only someone who owns a restaurant can run a food truck has nothing to do with the public’s health, safety or welfare,” Huebert said. “It just has to do with protecting restaurants from competition.”