Food Trucks at Taste of Chicago Hit With Steeper City Fees

By Ted Cox on May 1, 2013 7:39am | Updated on May 1, 2013 3:43pm

 Rosemary Krimbel, the city's chief of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, presents Dan Salls with a license to cook food on his Salsa Truck, the first in the city so honored.
Rosemary Krimbel, the city's chief of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, presents Dan Salls with a license to cook food on his Salsa Truck, the first in the city so honored.
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DNAinfo/Lizzie Schiffman

CHICAGO — Food trucks have been invited for the first time to take part in Taste of Chicago, but they'll have to dole out more cash to the city than brick-and-mortar restaurants participating in the annual event.

According to the city's own online registration forms, the city will hit food trucks with a 25 percent commission on their total Taste ticket sales. Established restaurants applying to be a "pop-up" vendor at the Taste face only a 20 percent commission.

Although the forms state the commission comes off "gross profits," not revenues, the accompanying worksheets clearly show the commission is based on total ticket sales.

At that, the city's calculated difference in net revenue on $9,000 in sales, after taxes, would be about $400 between a food truck and a pop-up restaurant at the Taste, with the truck clearing $6,041 and the restaurant $6,444.

"That does seem, on the face, sort of discriminatory against the trucks," said Robert Frommer, an attorney with the Institute for Justice who's pursuing a lawsuit against the city on its parking restrictions forcing trucks to park 200 feet away from any established restaurant. "They shouldn't be forced to carry a burden that brick-and-mortar restaurants wouldn't carry."

Alex Levine, who runs the Food Truck Freak website, pointed out the discrepancy in a Tuesday blog post headlined "Emanuel swings and misses" and beginning, "Chicago has done it again."

"We have received applications and a lot of interest from food trucks looking to participate in the Taste, and we’ve been in communication with various food-truck owners to answer all their questions and concerns," said Cindy Gatziolis, spokeswoman for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which oversees the Taste. "We are also preparing an FAQ/info sheet to post on our site by the end of this week."

According to Gatziolis, restaurants taking part in all five days of the Taste, from July 10-14, pay a $3,000 application fee, but pay the city an 18 percent commission on all tickets collected. Pop-ups and food trucks pay no application fee, and the only difference between them is the increase in the city's commission for trucks.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office did not respond to requests for comment on the different commission rates.

The City Council passed a food-truck ordinance last July that was largely seen as being more protective of established "brick-and-mortar" restaurants. It was more than six months after that that the city licensed its first food truck to cook onboard.

According to Jennifer Lipford, spokeswoman for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, there are now 116 licensed food trucks in the city, five of them approved to cook onboard.

The deadline for food trucks to apply to be Taste vendors is May 15.

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