Food Truck Owners Lobby for Change to Chicago Legislation

Several chefs are hoping that aldermen will amend Chicago laws regarding food trucks. Currently, laws severely limits food trucks in the city. Tanner Maxwell/The Daily Northwestern

By Tanner Maxwell | TheDailyNorthwestern

Several chefs are hoping that aldermen will amend Chicago laws regarding food trucks. Currently, laws severely limits food trucks in the city. Tanner Maxwell/The Daily Northwestern

To make a profit from his food truck, Chicago chef Aaron Crumbaugh said he occasionally breaks the law.

“It’s a risk sometimes I’m willing to take,” he said. “I don’t want to break laws, but it’s getting to a point financially where I have to.”

Current Chicago legislation prevents food truck employees like Crumbaugh, owner of The Wagyu Wagon, to prepare or cook food while on board. However, a proposal circulating among Chicago aldermen could change this ordinance.

Crumbaugh said he works around current laws by cooking on private property or parking his truck to make food, but sometimes the demands of his business require him to cook the occasional meal in his vehicle.

Alex Levine, creator of the website, said Chicago is one of the only major cities to severely limit food trucks. She said she feels even the current proposal will not completely alleviate the situation.

She said the proposal is designed to give preferential treatment to food trucks that need to cook on board through parking privileges. Those that do not need to cook on board will not receive the same opportunities.

Crumbaugh said his truck was built this year, and he included a kitchen in it because he believes legislation will change soon.

“The future was with kitchens,” he said. “As a chef, I didn’t want to compromise the quality of the food.”

Elizabeth Gomez, director of outreach for Chicago 32nd Ward, said the proposal was drafted when Matt Maroni, owner of Gaztro-Wagon and a 32nd Ward resident, brought his concern to his representatives.

Gomez said aldermen supported the idea because of its potential for job creation and keeping up with new food trends.

Food trucks started appearing in Chicago throughout the past year. Levine said more than 40 now operate in the Chicago area.

Culture, The Yogurt Society, a frozen yogurt truck, made its first stop in Evanston in addition to its Chicago route to tap a new market, founder Michael Farah said. Others are leaving the city for good because suburbs have more forgiving laws, Levine said.

But traveling outside the city, Crumbaugh said, presents a new set of challenges. Food truck owners have to spend money on gas and new business licenses. Laws outside the city do not allow for complete freedom either, he said.

Levine said while the proposed amendment is a step in the right direction, she favors creating equal opportunities for all food trucks.

“It’s like they’re trying to throw a Band-Aid on the situation and not giving thought to the legislation and the impact it may have,” she said.

In response to suggestions by food enthusiasts and food truck owners, Levine started Let Them Cook, a consumer-oriented video petition, early last week.

On the site, people can submit videos showing their support for cooking on board trucks.

Levine said if the law is not changed soon, Chicago’s food truck industry could plateau or die off completely.

“It would be a big detriment to the community,” she said.

Crumbaugh said Chicago officials need to learn from the officials of cities like Los Angeles and New York City and research how they handle food trucks.

Because the legislation is already drafted, the next step is to actually pass it. Gomez said there is no current timeline for when the law will be amended.

“Garnering support for legislation is always a challenge,” she said.

Crumbaugh said the city has not yet acted because it is still trying to figure out how to profit from the amendment.

Crumbaugh said he would like to see the legislation passed by next spring at the very latest.

“Chicago needs a food truck scene,” he said. “There (are) so many areas with nowhere to eat or nothing healthy to eat. Food trucks help that.”