Food Policy

Chicago's Disgusting New Food Truck Regulations

The Windy City's treatment of mobile food vendors is a case study in how to stifle entrepreneurship and innovation in the name of protecting powerful, entrenched interests.


This week Chicago's city council voted 44-1 in favor of adopting new rules for regulating food trucks in the city.

When a terrible and stifling set of outdated regulations like Chicago's is replaced, one might expect it to be cause for celebration among those who had suffered under the old rules.

And it's true that supporters of mobile vending in Chicago are pleased the new regulations will allow trucks to extend their operating hours and will finally legalize the preparation of fresh food on trucks—something the previous rules did not. This had meant all food had to be prepared in advance and kept warm on the trucks. This was not only difficult and challenging from a culinary perspective but was a legally mandated food-safety nightmare waiting to happen.

But if the ugly old rules are dead, prepare to meet their zombie successors.

These nefarious new regulations mandate that food trucks stay at least 200 feet away from restaurants—a near impossibility in downtown Chicago, as the handy graphic at right produced by the Institute for Justice illustrates.

"Our map showed the Loop, Chicago's downtown area, where there are hardly any slivers that are safely 200 feet away from a restaurant," says Beth Kregor, director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School, which provides free legal advocacy and assistance for low-income entrepreneurs in Chicago—including many food truck owners and operators. "The chance of finding a legal parking spot in one of those slivers is almost non-existent."

The new rules also require food trucks to submit to constant GPS monitoring. Violations of the proximity restriction or other rules carry harsh fines of up to $2,000—a staggering fine for a small business.

Food truck owners and supporters are angered.

"While it will be great that I can now put salsa on my bao tacos or even cook on board, what good does cooking do for me if I don't have anywhere to park and sell my food," wonders Amy Le, co-owner of the DucknRoll food truck and co-founder of the new Illinois Food Truck Association.

"At the end of the day, I just want to sell my banh mi and tacos without fear that I'm going to be slammed with a $2,000 ticket for parking 195 feet from a restaurant," says Le. "And I don't appreciate that the city feels the need to put an ankle bracelet on us with their GPS requirement."

"I love the fact that the city is now allowing truck owners to cook on board and operate longer hours," says Richard Myrick, the Chicago-based editor of Mobile Cuisine Magazine and author of the forthcoming book Running a Food Truck for Dummies, "but with the added location restrictions, GPS requirements and increased fines, I am concerned that truck owners are going to find it more difficult to make a profit from day to day."

"Chicago's new ordinance that allows cooking on trucks is a step in the right direction," says Matt Geller, who leads the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association and who is one of the leading authorities nationwide on mobile vending regulations. "Unfortunately, their 200 foot prohibition harms both the consumer and the burgeoning industry Chicago is trying [to] support."

(Article continues below video "Food Trucks vs. The Establishment.")

Others outside the industry appear equally disgusted by the new regulations.

The Chicago Tribune editorial board blasted the new rules, writing that they appear "designed to contain the food truck trend, not to nurture it."

Alderman John Arena, who cast the lone vote against adopting the regulations, referred to the rules as nothing more than a "[r]estraint of trade."

And that they are.

"We see no health or safety justification behind the 200-foot rule, and the city has never offered one," says Kregor. "The only explanation for the rule is the restaurants' demand for protectionism and the city government's deference to those demands."

That's no exaggeration. Even supporters of the new regulations freely admit they're designed to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.

"We want food trucks to make money, but we don't want to hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants," says Alderman Walter Burnett.

One bright spot? The brick-and-mortar restaurant community is hardly lined up in unison behind the discriminatory new rules, as an informal survey of four leading chefs in the Windy City illustrates.

Another reason for optimism is the involvement of IJ and its entrepreneurship clinic, which hosted a fantastic symposium on the mobile-vending regulatory climate in the city, My Streets, My Eats, at the University of Chicago School of Law this past April. (I served as a panelist at the conference.)

So what's next for IJ and Chicago's food trucks? Outreach? Education? Advocacy? More appeals to reason and fairness?

"We are taking a hard look at the new rules to figure out our next steps," says IJ's Kregor, "which might involve further advocacy for amendments or a lawsuit or both."

That echoes something Bert Gall, a senior IJ attorney, said when asked at the April conference why the group hadn't yet sued the city of Chicago over the lousy old rules.

"Chicago is definitely a potential litigation target for us," Gall responded at the time.

Positive change—however it arrives—can't come soon enough for some who, like Le, have poured their hearts and savings into building a thriving food-truck scene in Chicago.

"Despite all that has happened, I still believe that this is possible," says Le. "I don't think this is going to be an easy road (no pun intended) but we will exhaust[*] all our options in order to protect the livelihood of the existing trucks and those to come."

"We made our dreams our reality, and the city has turned it into a nightmare."

[*] Pun intended?

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

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  1. The Windy City’s treatment of mobile food vendors is a case study in how to stifle entrepreneurship and innovation in the name of protecting powerful, entrenched interests.

    Chicago politicians basing their political decisions around local big interests and graft-giving? You don’t say.

    I’ve NEVER seen a Chicago politician purposefully screw the little guy in favor of those who give to him. I mean, it’s not like we had a president from Chicago who fucks taxpayers and gives money to his donors who just so happen to sit on the board of Solyndra or anything.

    1. Isn’t Taste of Chicago ALL food trucks? That’s the best food event that I’ve ever been to. Like Ambridge PA’s Nationality Days times ten.

      1. Crappy taste of Chicago is not street vending trucks. It is restaurants setting up tents or their own event catering trucks and overcharging for mass prepared shit that is not as good as what you would buy in their regular restaurant.

    2. Restaurants pay rents, contribute to the property tax base, don’t obstruct parking for other cars, rarely congest sidewalks, are obviously more stable, on average, members of the community, have bathrooms so employees can wash their hands, and I strongly suspect are more likely to pay taxes appropriately.

      It’s like you folks never heard of Cornelius J. Vanderbilt. That scumbag would park a pair of below-cost food trucks outside your restaurant until you paid him to go away.

      What a bunch of frauds you are,

      1. Tulpa is in some fine company.

      2. We don’t give a shit about taxes, so…

        1. Ticks don’t like sick dogs.

      3. I’m not certain, but I expect that this ordinance also bans food trucks from private parking lots, regardless of whether the property owner would be fine with the truck being there. On private property, street “congestion” doesn’t apply. But I also consider public streets to be common areas on private property (with legal precedent that says they are), so traffic laws are also bullshit.

  2. Chicago is a raging shithole? Whaaaat? When did this happen? /S

    1. Seriously, “Chicago” and “disgusting” are practically synonyms. The words go together in perfect harmony.

    2. Hey! I grew up in Chicago, and I’m proud of this shit hole.
      Why is everyone so shocked when Barry and the other Illinois criminals act as they’ve always done?

  3. Why not call it what it is?

    A protection racket.

    Solution easy. Let them shake you down, or give up. Suckers.

  4. this is the issue I have with librarians, they live in there own “bubble” and come down all high and mighty thinking they know truly what is best for a community I doubt they visit or live anywhere near there.

    1. Yeah fuck those… librarians?

      1. Libertarians… you happy now auto correct!

        1. I’d be even happier if you actually contributed something witty or relevant, but I’ll settle for correct spelling. Best not to overexert your meager abilities.

      2. Actually, some librarians are really hot. I’ve known a couple, in the biblical sense.

    2. F-

      Get rid of lame ass trolls using this one weird trick.

      1. Could a lame ass troll come up with these gems?…..nt_2800263…..nt_3115691

    3. Yes! Damn the “librarians”!

      I went to grad school in Chicago (alas, not for library science). Go Cats! And curse lib[e]r[t]arians!

      1. Curse them! They know not what is best for THE COMMUNITY!
        Curse them!

      2. He’s a book-burner.

    4. why do you hate librarians? That you cannot differentiate between them and libertarians is not their fault.

      Assuming you meant the latter, our bubble includes the whole damn country and that includes any place where govt jackboots attempt to enforce their version of how we should all live. This, evidently, includes Chicago. Or are you incapable of deciding for yourself if you prefer to do business with a food truck vendor or brick/mortar restaurant?

      1. He meant libratarians, like SugarFree, Hell’s Librarian, stubby (if she even comes around anymore), and nicole (her blog qualifies her even if she has a different job.)

        1. yeah, I got that just having some fun with his bad spelling like a few others did. Interesting how trolls more often than not attack libertarians rather than defend whatever stupid thing it is that govt is doing.

          We need better trolls —

          1. Yeah. These guys aren’t treally trolls. More like leprechauns.

            1. Fuckin leprechaun typed that extra t on really.

    5. Are you talking about Liberians? Why do you hate Africans, Seattlesnow?

    6. Re: seattlesnow,

      this is the issue I have with librarians, they live in there own “bubble”

      This is the issue I have with people who use “there” when they should’ve used the possessive “their”. I doubt they visit or live anywhere near a grammar book.

      […] and come down all high and mighty thinking they know truly what is best for a community[.] I doubt they visit or live anywhere near there.

      But a council of bought-and-paid-for notables are supposed to know better than the community?

      What libertarians say is that it should be through their pocketbooks that the community decides which food trucks stay and which should not. We propose liberty and choice. The City Council of Chicago impose their decision on everyone else.

      1. then what happens when you make it harder for brick and mortar business to operate? Yea yea yea free market however non of you folks wouldn’t dare bother placing a restaurant downtown when I food truck can come along and snake business away from you. You wouldn’t bother opening there would you. Then it would be an empty storefront and we know how much America could use a empty storefront.

        1. Why do all store fronts in Chicago have to be restaurants? Maybe if the crappy food place closed down, someone would see the business generated by the food-truck and open up a boutique. Or maybe the food-truck owner will expand and move into the empty store.
          But alas…librarians never think about anything, call in the central planners.

        2. If the brick and mortar places can’t compete, then their business model is a failure and they deserve to go out of business. The marketplace rewards efficiency and innovation; I see no reason to interfere with that.

          1. Right. Go buy a bigger truck.

        3. The only restaurants that food trucks compete with are lunch spots, not fine dining; and there is demand for a variety of both store based and street vendors. Lunch counters and fast food needs all the competition and diversification that the market can provide. Chicago is a vast market of pure shit, disgusting dives, and lousy generic food courts, with only a few notably decent places.

    7. Libertarians don’t assume that they know what is best for the community. That is why we let the community decide. Your problem is assuming that the political process results in the community deciding instead of just oppression of one group by a politically stronger one.

    8. Yeah, just fuck those food trucks with all that delicious food. Fuck ’em! That’s all I need to know! FUCK ’em!!

    9. Dear Seattle,
      You know nothing because
      A. I’m from Chicago and this is dead on.
      B. A Libertarian would want the free market to decide where the public gets their food, not the crooked Illinois Politicians.
      C. You are a Fucktard. You are obviously out of your element.

  5. this is the issue I have with trolls, they say stupid shit all the time.

    1. Yeah, but if everyone agreed, what would be the point of the comment section?

      1. Any two sides of an argument can be stated without saying stupid shit.

  6. this is the issue I have with librarians, they live in there own “bubble” and come down all high and mighty thinking they know truly what is best for a community I doubt they visit or live anywhere near there.

    That Sugarfree- he’s like ten Hitlers rolled into one.

    1. I can’t even come up with an excuse for this mornings fails is blogging

      1. Nando, is this you again?
        For pete’s sake, drink some coffee before you try to spell.

    2. Someday, I hope to be 11, maybe even 12 Hitlers.

  7. Speaking of pernicious nonsense emanating from the City That Blows, a NYT “opinion” 9to which I shall provide no link), written by a former Chicago cop, extolls the superior training, expertise, and psychological stability of “trained professional law enforcement officers” as proof that no lowly “civilian” should be allowed to carry a handgun in public.

    Chicago; you know, the place where the police have their own torture squads, and the off duty heroes beat up female bartenders for sport.

    I realize times are hard for the Legacy Scolders, by for fuck’s sake, why can’t they do even a little bit of contextual fact-checking before they splash this sort of excrescense onto the page?

    1. Don’t forget the off-duty cop who followed a woman out of a bar, pulled his hand-gun and put a bullet in her brain with no warning, and got away scott free.

  8. “We made our dreams our reality, and the city has turned it into a nightmare.”

    By George, I think she’s got it!

  9. Federal court in Colorado issues first injunction on the country against Obamacare contraception mandate – says mandate likely in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act:

    “The government has exempted over 190 million health plan participants and beneficiaries from the preventive care coverage mandate; this massive
    exemption completely undermines any compelling interest in applying the preventive care
    coverage mandate to Plaintiffs.”

    (see especially pp. 10-16, quoted sentence on pp. 14-15)

    1. Press release by the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents the challengers:

      1. And the Department of Justice argued that there was no religious-freedom problem, because the plaintiffs could always *close down their business* rather than comply with the government’s edicts. What a great message to send in these fun economic times – closing down a business would be better than letting the owners follow their consciences!

        But the Obama administration isn’t hostile to small business – that’s a slander spread by the teabaggers.

  10. Tulpa should show up soon to explain why these are reasonable regulations.

  11. As soon as a government gets involved to “FIX” something, you can rest assured that they will create a bigger problem with their regulation ! ! !

  12. You didn’t build that truck!

  13. Here in Taiwan, food trucks are everywhere. I guess people here feel that everyone having a job (and a bigger choice of foods, prices, and operating hours) is a good thing. I guess that would be strange to the average American. We expats like that. No open container laws here either. You can hang out and eat and drink alcohol in public. However, the Taiwan government is getting bitchy about smoking. Still, US cigarettes are about one-third the stateside price.

  14. I’m going to be slammed with a $2,000 ticket for parking 195 feet from a restaurant,” says Le. “And I don’t appreciate that the city feels the need to put an ankle bracelet on us with their GPS requirement.”

  15. Stop hating on food trucks! Who doesn’t love delicious, unique foods that are willing to come to you?! No one I know. To those who love food trucks as much as me, check out, NYC’s new online ordering site that allows users to place orders for pick up from food trucks and carts, so no more standing in line! Hope you guys enjoy.

  16. There are two things city officials should recognize about food carts. The first is that they’re wildly popular, and shouldn’t be disallowed. The second is that the regulations written for them can’t be so tedious that they prevent the organic and unorthodox forms that such carts often take. To read about how they have been impeded in larger cities?and in my hometown of Charlottesville, VA?check out my blog post:…..ttesville/

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