June 01–A skirmish among food truck operators at one of the most popular mobile food sites in the Loop led many regular vendors to serve lunch elsewhere on Friday. Less than a third of the usual food truck vendors showed up.
On Thursday, two food truck owners got into a dispute over curb space near the intersection of Wacker Drive and Adams Street, and the police were called, according to several witnesses. An official with Chicago’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which oversees the food truck industry, said the police response stemmed from a complaint about an unlicensed food truck attempting to operate in the area.
Five food trucks received citations from the police for a rarely enforced rule that food trucks must stay more than 200 feet away from bricks-and-mortar businesses serving food, according to the Chicago Police Department.
Chicago police Sgt. Rocco Alioto said that officers were in the area for a traffic accident Thursday when they received the complaint.
Food trucks, some of whom have been parking on the block for four years or more, say they are allowed to park there even though it’s not a city-sanctioned “food truck stand” because city rules also allow them to park in metered spaces. Many food truck owners keep cars on the block around the clock to hold spots for their trucks, and rack up hundreds of dollars per week in parking tickets when they fail to feed the meters.
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Lilia Chacon, spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, said the stretch near Wacker and Adams is not sanctioned for food trucks.
Food truck owners who were preparing to serve Friday morning said tension within their ranks is the result of strict limits imposed by the city on where and when they can operate. Supporters of the food trucks’ cause say that most of the Loop — 97 percent by their calculations — is off-limits for service because of the 200-foot rule. A city ordinance also stipulates that food trucks can’t park in a single spot for more than two hours.
Ramon Torres of Aztec Dave’s Food Truck, one of the area’s mainstays, received a citation Thursday and closed up without starting service. He returned Friday morning as a way to “show that we have a right to be here” and was joined by a skeleton crew of fellow food trucks. Torres said he thinks it’s important to keep showing up on the block in the hopes that the group won’t be forced to abandon it and find business elsewhere.
He said he worries that there will be more scrutiny from the city and the Police Department if issues among the vendors continue. Torres says he makes between $1,500 and $2,000 in sales a day at the Wacker and Adams location, but that warm weather Thursday would likely have produced an even better day.
“We’re here Monday through Friday. It’s our busiest spot — it’s our bread and butter,” he said. “I think it’s extremely unjust if we’re forced out.”
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Torres said food truck operators serve at the spot on a first-come, first-served basis, and usually work out any skirmishes among themselves. But Torres said that the city is issuing new licenses for food trucks even though space for them to park and serve is at a premium, a combination of factors that is raising tensions faster and further than before.
Mohammed Beydoun of Mediterranean Express also showed up Friday to serve, and said he was hoping that the group could soon return to business as usual.
The vendor charged with two counts of operating a food truck without a license on Thursday was La Patrona, according to a Business Affairs and Consumer Protection official. Owners of the food truck could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Fat Shallot was one of the Wacker and Adams regulars that chose to serve elsewhere Friday. Sarah Weitz, who owns the truck with husband Sam Barron, said she opted to keep the truck in River North to avoid the area Friday but hopes to return soon.
“I don’t need any more tickets,” she said.
Gabriel Wiesen, owner of the Beavers Donuts food truck and president of the Illinois Food Truck Association, said the problems with mobile food vendors all result from legislative restraints put in place by the city, especially the 200-foot rule.
“You have an industry of people that are constantly clamoring for business — it’s like starving people fighting for crumbs,” he said.
Food trucks have lost two court battles in an effort to overturn some of the regulations, which first passed the City Council in 2012. An attempt by a group of alderman to amend the rules in 2017 didn’t get far. The Illinois Supreme Court this week agreed to hear arguments in a lawsuit over the city’s food truck rules.
“I can’t even say I’m cautiously optimistic” about the possibility of a state Supreme Court ruling in food trucks’ favor, Wiesen said. “I’m appalled that the city has spent hundreds of thousands enforcing (the rules) instead of working with its citizens in hopes of something better.”
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