By Chicago Sun-Times
Like sidewalk cafes and street musicians, certain small amenities just add a nice flavor to living in a world-class city like Chicago.
We think it’s time to add mobile food trucks to the list.
Chicago already allows food truck vendors to serve pre-packaged food. But an ordinance proposed by Ald. Scott Waguespack would take the city’s fledgling food truck industry to a whole new level by allowing vendors to prepare hot, made-to-order meals in their trucks.
The ordinance would require strict adherence to sanitation standards and bar the trucks from setting up shop within 200 feet of a restaurant or 100 feet of a retail store that sells food.
Despite these concessions to the restaurant industry, brick-and-mortar restaurant owners are trying to scuttle the ordinance on the grounds that they’ll face unfair competition from food trucks whose operating costs are much lower than theirs.
On Monday, Sheila O’Grady, president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, suggested that mobile food trucks be confined to so-called “food deserts,” or neighborhoods lacking grocery stores or restaurants.
O’Grady argues that food truck owners can use social networking sites, like Facebook, to lure the downtown lunch crowd to Ashburn or Pullman, just as easily as they could if they set up on La Salle Street.
Give us a break.
This is nothing more than a bald attempt to kill Chicago’s food truck industry before it even gets going.
It’s also kind of creepy to exploit the very real problem of urban food deserts to cut your competitors off at the knees.
Like it or not, competition is what drives the free market. And finding a way to do something cheaper and more efficiently than the other guy, as the food trucks have done, isn’t unfair. It’s called innovation. Some restaurants may suffer, but consumers will benefit.
We know from the popularity of outdoor food stations at neighborhood festivals that there’s an appetite for food trucks in Chicago. And we like the idea of up-and-coming chefs, who maybe can’t afford a bricks-and-mortar spot, getting a chance to wow us with meals on wheels. Licensing fees from the food trucks would bring the city sorely needed new revenue.
It’s time Chicago joined the ranks of New York, Los Angeles, Portland and other big cities that have a thriving mobile food scene.
That said, we don’t see the harm in phasing in food trucks — over a year or two — to give existing dining spots a chance to prepare for the competition.