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Food Truck Crackdown Has Alderman, Truck Owners Seeking Compromise

  Food trucks in front of 600 W. Chicago Ave. have reported problems with police enforcing city ordinances.
Food Trucks
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RIVER NORTH — Food truck owner and truck association leader Danny Herrera said an incident Tuesday in which police told food trucks to leave a popular lunch spot in River North demonstrated that the city's strict regulations should be changed, and the local alderman agreed a compromise was necessary.

Herrera, who is the leader of the Illinois Food Truck Owners Association, said Wednesday he would  "put [his] name on the line" by contacting city leaders and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, which regulates the trucks, to make changes to Chicago's food truck ordinance that say food truck owners can only stay parked in the same spot for two hours or less.

 John Nguyen, owner of the Chicago Lunchbox food truck, posted this Instagram photo after talking with police about his food truck's presence in front of 600 W. Chicago Ave. Nguyen said food trucks in the area are having problems with the city's food truck regulations.
John Nguyen, owner of the Chicago Lunchbox food truck, posted this Instagram photo after talking with police about his food truck's presence in front of 600 W. Chicago Ave. Nguyen said food trucks in the area are having problems with the city's food truck regulations.
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Courtesy John Nguyen

The law also says the trucks can park only in designated "stands" on the street or in a spot 200 feet or more away from a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

Kelly Bauer discusses what happened Tuesday on DNAinfo Radio:

Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said Wednesday he would help the food trucks, area businesses and police reach a compromise.

"I do understand the [brick-and-mortar] businesses ... pay rent, taxes, insurance, employees, light, gas to be in business," Burnett said. "I'm going to have to figure out a compromise in dealing with that. ... So we're looking at it and trying to see if there's a way of cutting the baby in half."

The comments from Herrera and Burnett came after food trucks parked on Larabee Avenue just north of Chicago Avenue — outside a large office building with an address of 600 W. Chicago Ave. — were threatened with tickets if they didn't leave immediately after two hours passed, even though the owners said they needed extra time before and after the two hours of sale time to cook and clean.

John Nguyen, owner of the Chicago Lunchbox food truck, posted a photo of himself standing by police and went as far as to say he'd rather start selling weed then face the potential $2,000 fine for violating the food truck rules.

The truck owners also complained that a city spot on Larabee designated for two trucks was too small for two trucks to actually fit in.

"This rule is meant to keep the variety of food options circulating through each food stand," Mika Stambaugh, Business Affairs and Consumer Protection spokeswoman, said in an email.

"Mobile Food Truck operators have to prep, cook and clean up within the two hours. Mobile food vehicles have many parking options, food truck stands are only one option. Mobile food trucks can park in any legal parking space, as long as it is 200 feet away from any brick-and-mortar restaurant, and [they comply] with posted parking restrictions." 

Still, the two-hour rule even applies to private lots. Nguyen was told to leave a lot across from the Larabee spot even though he had paid a fee to the lot's owner to sell there.

Marty Maloney, a police spokesman, said police were simply enforcing the law.

"As would be expected CPD will warn and ticket those trucks which violate the time they are allotted," Maloney said. "A truck staying in a spot beyond two hours is no different than a car at an expired meter."

Wednesday morning, Herrera parked his Windy City Patty Wagon in the area and got ready to sell food. Herrera said an officer reminded the trucks in the area that they had to leave within two hours.

Although originally Herrera said he might stay past two hours in hopes he would get a ticket that he could later challenge in court, he ended up closing the truck early Wednesday so he could clean and leave within the time limit. He ended up turning away customers and losing what he estimated to be hundreds of dollars in sales.

After closing Wednesday,Herrera initiated a meeting with a local restaurant owner who the truck owners believe complained about their presence Tuesday. Herrera even went as far as to say he'd be willing to stop selling drinks and refer those who wanted drinks to the restaurant.

While a DNAinfo Chicago reporter was not allowed to witness the meeting, Herrera later said his conversation with the restaurant owner was cordial and productive. They talked about complaints the restaurant owner had, like the trucks staying too long or the trucks camping out early in the morning so they could nab one of the designated spots.

The restaurant owner declined to comment to DNAinfo but denied he had called police on the trucks Tuesday.

Herrera said the bottom line was the regulations needed to change, but until then the trucks need to follow them.

Burnett agreed that police should continue to enforce the law and regulate traffic in the contested area. He also cautioned that changing the law could open a "can of worms" as restaurants could also push for changes, which he thinks could include asking the city to prohibit trucks from parking in front of restaurants at the designated spots.

Zack Minasian, owner of the Big Shish, which sold from the private lot Wednesday, wants the laws to change so he can arrive at his selling spot at 10:30 a.m. to prepare food, then sell from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and stay until 1:15 p.m. to clean.

Minasian said he understands why the area's restaurants complain when the food trucks break the city's rules, but said the problem stems from the city's regulations on food trucks. He said everyone should be "fair to everybody running [a] business."

"The restaurants should be mad at the city," Minasian said. "The city made the truck stops too small, so that's an issue."

Herrera said he'll be back at 600 W. Chicago Ave. next week to speak to the restaurant owner and see how things are going.

"I'll let [the food trucks] know we have to play by the rules," Herrera said.

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