RIVER NORTH — Food truck owner John Nguyen said Chicago's strict regulations are stirring up trouble for the mobile vendors trying to make a living outside 600 W. Chicago Ave. — a scene that played out Tuesday.
Nguyen, owner of Chicago Lunchbox, said he was one of five food trucks told by police to move from locations in front of and across the street from 600 W. Chicago Ave. during the busy lunch hour Tuesday. Up to two food trucks are allowed to operate in street spaces in front of an office building there, while another three operate daily in a privately owned lot across the street during lunch hours.
Kelly Bauer explains why the food trucks were told to leave:
Nguyen said police learned he and the other trucks had been at the location since 10:30 a.m. or earlier Tuesday and said they had to leave by 12:30 p.m., as city regulations only allow food trucks to stay in one spot for two hours or less. The regulations apply to trucks parked in public and private parking spots.
But Nguyen said he typically sells for only two hours in the location, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. He uses any extra time at the spot to prepare his food so it's fresh and to later clean the truck.
The city's ordinance does not mention whether preparation or cleanup time is allowed, stating only that "stops shall be made only to service customers and shall not exceed ... a total of two hours."
"Blah blah blah, just trying to make a living, and the city is stickin it to us!!!" Nguyen wrote on an Instagram photo he posted as he stood next to a Chicago police officer.
Nguyen said police let him off with a warning Tuesday, but they said they would ticket him and other food truck vendors if they didn't leave the lot right away. Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Nguyen said he was frustrated because the law restricts his operation on the private lot where he's paid the owner a fee to sell out of his truck. He also said that parking on the street there is tough, because there is an angled curb that makes it hard for two trucks to fit.
Witnesses said the Soups in the Loop food truck also was ordered out of the area, but a spokesman for the food truck could not be reached for comment.
But Gabriel Wiesen, owner of Beavers Coffee and Donuts food truck, said the new regulations have really limited the offerings at that location.
Wiesen has operated in the area since before the food truck ordinance went into effect in 2012, and he said six to 12 food trucks use to regularly show up during lunch. Recently, police have told him to leave the street spot in front of the building because he couldn't fit along the angled curb since another truck was already there.
"The issues really with 600 West are ... it's really unique. ... Two won't even fit in the current space," Wiesen said. "So you took a thriving area where everyone was doing very, very well and you sort of put a bottleneck on it."
Those looking for a late lunch were surprised by the absence of food trucks at the spot Tuesday afternoon.
Oswim Marroquin, the attendant at the privately owned lot where the trucks park, said people in the area like the food trucks because they offer variety.
"The customers, they say, 'This is crazy'" when the food trucks left Tuesday, Marroquin said.
Nguyen and Marroquin both said they think a local restaurant owner — who they've seen take photos of food trucks in the area in the past — complained to police Tuesday. Wiesen also said a local restaurant's concern could be fueling the recent crackdown, but he hopes the city will loosen up on regulations.
Snarf's Sub Shop, located inside the building at 600 W. Chicago Ave., said it doesn't have any problems with the mobile competition. General manager Tim Ravert said even Snarf's employees sometimes eat at the trucks.
"We like it. For obvious reasons, some of the other businesses don't," Ravert said.
A spokeswoman for the city's Business Affairs and Consumer Protection Department, which regulates the trucks, said her department was not involved in the crackdown Tuesday.
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