Nearly six months ago Chicago approved new legislation meant to help food trucks legally operate in the city and finally have the opportunity to cook food on board. However in those six months not one single truck has successfully been licensed for onboard cooking. 109 food trucks have applied for Chicago’s Mobile Food Preparer licenses, but according to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer protection, none of them have met the city’s requirements.
For many food trucks cooking their food onboard is the only way to serve a superior, made-to-order product. The Jibarito Stop food truck invented a new sandwich called the jibarito, with seared steak, lettuce, tomato and cheese between hot friend plantains. However the truck’s owners Cely Rodriguez and Moraima Fuentes may never be able to actually serve this sandwich.
“I think many food truck owners are hesitant to even pursue cooking onboard because of their haunting experience with working with the city,” said Rodriguez.
Food truck owners certainly feel the same way about applying for this license, encountering city officials that cite numerous problems but offer no real solutions. Gabriel Wiesen, food truck operator and owner of Midwest Food Trucks said that Chicago’s regulation is “one of the most, if not the most, stringent in the country.”
Food truck owners had a difficult enough time getting a license to serve prepackaged food, that cooking onboard seems nearly impossible. Chicago’s code requires that food trucks have ventilation equipment and gas line equipment that are very difficult to install and raise the cost of outfitting a truck as much as $20,000. This equipment can also raise the height of food trucks to 13 feet, making it impossible to travel beneath certain underpasses in Chicago.
However the Office of Business Affairs is telling a different story. Spokeswoman Jennifer Lipford said that only four of the 109 food trucks that applied for the license have returned for follow-up consultations.
“The city wants to see a thriving food truck industry that also maintains important health and safety standards that are in place to protect the public,” said Lipford. “We want to see more food trucks and we want to work with people, but we can’t work with them if they don’t come back.”
Many food truck owners still believe that the city is sending mixed messages towards food trucks. Aaron Crumbaugh of Wagyu Wagon has been discouraged by the process of obtaining licenses in Chicago, and has turned his attentions to outfitting food trucks in other cities with straightforward licensing procedures. Another truck, Beavers Coffee + Donuts Truck has been forced to operate solely on private property without an onboard cooking license. The truck still must work with a local commissary to assist with a number services including wastewater and grease disposal. Food trucks so far have not found any such commissaries.
The Chicago Tribune recently confirmed one known commissary as well as a shared kitchen facility which allegedly qualifies as one, though the owner was unaware because of a miscommunication.
It seems that miscommunication and confusion have been paramount in preventing food trucks from fully operating within Chicago, and many truck operators are calling for a city liaison to assist them in the licensing process. This licensing debacle has already caused several trucks to shut down permanently, and raises questions as to whether Chicago truly intends to allow food trucks after years of back and forth debate on the topic.
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