Food Truck Owners Livid After River North Stand Moved to 'Much Worse' Spot

By Kelly Bauer on July 31, 2014 5:40am 

RIVER NORTH — Food truck owners are livid that the city moved a busy stand near Chicago Avenue and Larrabee Street in River North and say they plan to fight the relocation — along with the city's regulations.

The food truck stand relocation caused confusion last week when food truck owners attempted to use the original spot, 828 N. Larrabee St., unsure why the stand's signs were gone. Beavers Coffee & Donuts reported it received a ticket July 24 for being within 200 feet of a restaurant, and Caponies Express took to Twitter to report being told to move by police.

The new stand is at 729 N. Larrabee St., about a block away from the original spot, which Beavers' owner Gabriel Wiesen said was "arguably the most profitable or one of the most profitable" stands in the city.

The new location is in a "much, much worse location in regard to the foot traffic and the consumer development," said Wiesen, vice president of the Illinois Food Truck Owners Association. "They say two blocks; it might as well be 2 miles."

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) and the city's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection said the move — which was made official when the new location's signs were put up last weekend — was made to better accommodate traffic.

The street around the 828 Larrabee St. stand "is very congested," Burnett said. "People were complaining about traffic. ... The cabs are getting backed up."

Mika Stambaugh, a spokeswoman for Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates the trucks, said "the stand was originally located north of Chicago Avenue, but impeded the safe and efficient flow of traffic on this two-way segment of Larrabee, which is traversed by various shuttles, taxis, and other vehicles serving the building housing Groupon.

"The stand was shifted south of Chicago Avenue, which is a one-way segment of Larrabee with lighter traffic," she said.

 A sign at 828 N. Larrabee indicates where food trucks can park and for how long they can stay in the spots. The signs were removed, causing confusion among food trucks. The city said the stand was being moved south of Chicago Avenue where vehicle traffic is not as heavy.
A sign at 828 N. Larrabee indicates where food trucks can park and for how long they can stay in the spots. The signs were removed, causing confusion among food trucks. The city said the stand was being moved south of Chicago Avenue where vehicle traffic is not as heavy.
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DNAinfo/Kelly Bauer

Stambaugh said the relocated stand will be moved "a little north, closer to Chicago Avenue, once construction of a bank at the southeast corner of Larrabee and Chicago is completed."

But Danny Herrera, president of the Illinois Food Truck Owners Association, accused the city of trying to appease an area restaurant that had complained about the stands at the old spot. The restaurant owner declined to comment on the stand's relocation.

Wiesen said the food trucks are circulating a petition calling on Burnett to reinstate the stand at its original location. Wiesen said the petition is available at participating food trucks and at ChicagoFoodTruckFinder.com. The food truck owners hope to gather several thousand signatures from their customers and other supporters.

The original spot at 828 N. Larrabee St. has proven controversial. Last month the food trucks took to Twitter to complain they were being harassed when police told them they had to move after two hours or face tickets, as required by law.

The trucks accused the owner of a nearby restaurant of calling police on them.

They also said the spot was too small to fit two trucks, and the ordinance was unfair because the trucks need extra time before and after the two hours of sales time to cook and clean.

Herrera, owner of the Windy City Patty Wagon truck, later met with the complaining owner and told him he would push the food trucks to follow the two-hour time limit until trucks could get the law changed.

Despite Herrera's efforts, some food trucks continue to ignore the two-hour restriction.

"As long as you're not playing by the rules, [the restaurant's] got you," Herrera said this week. "They're not just ruining it for themselves, they're ruining it for the other trucks. So, I've been calling them and trying to get them to play by the rules for now, until we get the dust kind of settled a little bit. But once again, it's hard to get other owners to [do so.] They see it as kind of dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest."

The issue isn't limited to the River North stand, Herrera said, as similar problems are popping up at other food truck locations, and businesses are seeing they can get trucks removed that don't follow city regulations.

For now, Herrera said the biggest issue is evening the playing field for food trucks, because many are at risk of failing.

"You can't protect one set of businesses against another set of businesses. It's that kind of country we live in," he said. "I feel bad for some of the older licensed trucks that weren't able to get on board with the new changes because I see them sort of falling off, one truck at a time.

"I see it just slowly dying off before it gets any better."

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