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Local laws putting the brakes on food truck vendors

The draconian parts of the law were passed because of a few politically connected restaurateurs that don’t support the competition.

Agenda 21

Local laws putting the brakes on food truck vendors

Many cities throughout the United States are experiencing the tasty innovation of what food trucks have to offer.

However, not all cities have been completely receptive of the idea and Chicago has been one of the worst.

Until recently, food trucks had to prepare their sustenance in a kitchen and then keep it warm on the truck.

Secondly, trucks were unable to operate between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

Lastly, since 1991, only food trucks serving construction workers could operate in front of a restaurant.

In July 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a new food ordinance.

The new law allows food trucks to prepare on board, have the city install five food truck stands in communities with over 300 restaurants and expanding the hours of operation from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Despite the reform, food truck owners still face an uphill battle.

The law also requires food truck entrepreneurs to pay a $2,000 fine (which is ten times larger than parking in front of a fire hydrant) if they operate within 200 feet of any fixed business serving food.

In order to enforce this, the city in all their infinite wisdom is forcing the food trucks to install a GPS tracking device.

The draconian parts of the law were passed because of a few politically connected restaurateurs that don’t support the competition.

Alderman Tom Tunney, owner of several Ann Sather’s restaurants said, “One of the major issue is spacing from brick-and-mortar restaurants…We need to make sure we protect…restaurants.”

Tunney is not the only restaurateur complaining about food-trucks.

Glenn Keefer implied trucks were, “peddling substandard fare while often breaking rules, clogging traffic and littering our streets.”

Both of these claims are erroneous, as I will explain later.

All is not lost, as The Schnitzel King and Cupcakes for Courage have joined forces with the libertarian law firm Institute for Justice to argue the 200 foot rule and GPS tracking violate Illinois Constitution.

The lawsuit was filed on November 14, 2012 in Cook County Circuit Court.

“Putting a GPS tracking device on my food truck makes me feel like a criminal with an ankle bracelet,” said IJ client Kristen Casper.  “I think it’s wrong and I don’t want it on my vehicle.”

For more insight into the case, I encourage all to watch the video, Game of Thrones  [Food Trucks]: Chicago’s Mobile Vendors in an Epic Food Fight, which can be seen below:

Despite opposition from traditional restaurant owners clamoring for protectionist policies to slice competition, there is a plethora of information in favor of food carts.

The report titled, “Seven Myths and Realities about Food Trucks: Why the Facts Support Food-Truck Freedom,” by Bert Gall (a senior attorney at the IJ and director of IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative) and Lancée Kurcab (IJ’s outreach coordinator) illustrates in great detail the essence of food truck autonomy.

While the study is too lengthy to reproduce in its entirety, here are some highlights:

MYTH #1:  The presence of food trucks is harmful to a city’s restaurant industry.

REALITY:  The presence of food trucks does not hurt a city’s restaurant industry, but instead helps it.

Examples of Food-Truck Entrepreneurs Opening Brick-and-Mortar Establishments

Austin: In 2006, Michael Rypka opened a small food trailer on South First Street in Austin called Torchy’s Tacos. The trailer became so successful that he was able to expand: Torchy’s Tacos now has eleven brick-and-mortar restaurants, not just in Austin, but also Dallas and Houston. Michael now employs about 450 people.

Boston: Ayr Muir graduated from MIT, earned his MBA from Harvard and began his career working at McKinsey & Company. But in 2008, he left the corporate world to follow his dream of becoming an entrepreneur and launched Clover Lab Food Truck. His locally sourced vegetarian fare has been such a huge hit with customers that Ayr has now been able to launch a total of six trucks and two restaurants in the Boston area.17 He now employs over 140 people.

Chicago: In 1963, Dick Portillo opened a six-by-12-foot hot dog trailer on North Avenue in Villa Park. Years later, Portillo’s is a national brand—indeed, a brand that is nearly synonymous with the iconic Chicago hot dog—with 47 locations in Illinois, Indiana and California. Portillo Restaurant Group is now the largest privately owned restaurant company in the Midwest, with over 4,000 employees.

Cleveland: Chris Hodgson was inspired to bring affordable gourmet food to Cleveland when he visited taco trucks in New York City. His first food truck, Dim and Den Sum, was so successful that he launched a second truck—Hodge Podge—which received nationwide fame when it finished second in the Food Network’s hit show, The Great Food Truck Race. Chris partnered with a restaurateur to open Hodges restaurant in downtown Cleveland, and it now employs about 50 people.

Seattle: In 2007, Chef Josh Henderson started serving classic American food, but with a gourmet twist, out of an Airstream trailer called Skillet. Skillet quickly became popular, in large part because of the delicious bacon jam in its gourmet burgers. In 2011, Josh opened up the Skillet Diner in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and his business now includes catering and selling its bacon jam through retailers all over the country. He now employs almost 100 people.

Washington, D.C.: Mike Lenard brought Korean fusion-style tacos to the nation’s capital in August 2010 when he opened Takorean using a remodeled 1985 Ford step-van. Mike has now opened a permanent location at D.C.’s Union Market, serving up the same menu that made his truck so successful. Takorean was honored to be named one of Washingtonian Magazine’s best food trucks in summer 2012, and the magazine recently billed the new Union Market location as one of 11 new restaurants its readers should visit.22 Mike currently employs nine people, and has imminent plans to hire five more employees if his sales continue their upward trend.

MYTH # 2:  Trucks have an “unfair” advantage over restaurants because of their mobility.

REALITY:  It is true that food trucks’ mobility allows them to serve customers in different parts of a city, but any advantages that this provides is offset by the many disadvantages of being a mobile operation. 

Food trucks cannot serve as many customers during the day as can an average restaurant. For example, once a food truck finds a parking space, it can take 30 minutes for set-up, and a similar amount of time to clean and pack up after the meal service is over. This means that a truck that parks in a space with a two-hour parking limit only has around an hour to serve customers. That’s less than half the time that a restaurant can generally allot to lunch service, and less than a quarter of the time that a restaurant can generally allot to dinner service.

Food trucks, unlike restaurants, can, and often do, break down. Until repairs are made, the truck cannot serve customers, employees miss out on their shifts and the food in the commissary refrigerator may spoil.

A liquor license is a big moneymaker for restaurants, but food trucks are usually unable to obtain that license under local and state laws because they do not meet the requirement of having a fixed location.

MYTH #3:  Trucks have an “unfair advantage over restaurants because they are not subject to the same costs.

REALITY:  Restaurants generally do have higher costs than food trucks (e.g., buying or leasing restaurant space), but their return for paying all of those costs is getting the benefit of a fixed location and thus avoiding the many disadvantages that food trucks have.

MYTH #4:  Food trucks have an “unfair” advantage over restaurants because of operating a food truck is easy.

REALITY:  Just like running a restaurant, running a food truck is extremely hard work.

MYTH #5:  Food trucks are unsanitary “roach coaches.”

REALITY:  According to the available evidence, food trucks are generally just as clean and sanitary as restaurants.

MYTH #6:  Food trucks cause harmful sidewalk congestion.

REALITY:  No evidence supports the assertion that food trucks cause harmful sidewalk congestion.

MYTH # 7:  Food trucks create a special trash problem because their customers are especially prone to littering.

REALITY:  Food-truck customers are not especially prone to littering, and food-truck operators are responsibly to ensure that trash is properly disposed.

This is not the only report issued by IJ regarding food-truck rights.

As Robert Frommer (IJ attorney) and Gall illustrate in the report, “Food-Truck Freedom:  How to Build Better Food-Truck Laws in you City,” no protectionism and clearly tailored laws will be beneficial for food truck operations.

Let’s hope IJ can restore economic liberty for food-truck operators.

“Consumers should decide who wins or loses in the marketplace, not city officials,” said Gall. “What made America great is freedom and competition, not hardball politics and backroom deals.”

Edited by Madison Ruppert

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Contributed by Brent Daggett of End the Lie.

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