CHICAGO — A cart full of crepes strolling around Downtown isn't just the city's first licensed food cart.
It's the only one.
Melissa's Palacinke Crepes is making a small piece of food history this month. Run by South Loop woman Danka Marinkovic, the crepes cart beat out hundreds of applicants to get the city's first — and currently, only — food cart license since City Hall legalized mobile food vendors last fall.
"It doesn't get any faster than this," Marinkovic said.
A Serbian immigrant, Marinkovic is using her mother Melissa's crepes recipe to realize her dream of pushing pastries. Marinkovic previously made crepes through her catering business, but longed for years to sell her wares to people on the street. She finally got her wish a few weeks ago, when she got her license and began selling her crepes through the Loop and elsewhere.
"I'm sure there were pushcarts before, but the city's website says we're No. 1," Marinkovic said.
Reporter David Matthews has had a crepe or two in his day.
The City Council estimated as many as 1,500 Chicagoans already sold food on the street when it approved food cart licenses in November — opening a door for Marinkovic, Tamale Guy and others. The move followed the legalization of food trucks years ago, and together city officials hope food trucks and carts can elevate Chicago's sidewalk food scene to that of other big cities such as New York.
The new, biennial food cart licenses cost $350, a figure that could generate $8 million every year as food carts branch throughout the city, aldermen estimate.
"The city of Chicago is committed to strengthening small businesses of all types, which create jobs in our neighborhoods and help drive Chicago's economy," Mika Stambaugh, a spokeswoman in the city's department of business affairs and consumer protection, said in a statement. "Food carts will add to the city’s already dynamic culinary scene, building on recent steps we have taken to support food trucks."
Stambaugh couldn't speak to why the crepes cart received the city's first license. The new ordinance was approved just before winter, and city officials have been using the subsequent "transition period" to host workshops for prospective food cart vendors, she said.
Per regulations Marinkovic must cook and package all her crepes before loading them into her cart. Right now she sells four kinds of crepes: banana and Nutella, walnut and honey, a "chopped salad" crepe with vinaigrette dressing, and a "power crepe" with hummus and mixed greens. The crepes cost $5, with Feta cheese $1 extra.
Melissa's banana and Nutella crepes. [Facebook/Melissa's Pal Crepes]
For now Marinkovic has just one cart, which she pushes around the Loop but also near White Sox games as she figures out the best spots. The goal is to get the cart out from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and also at night as bars close in River North. With time she wants to get more carts that can run simultaneously through the city, and equip them with solar panels that can power the refrigerators cooling her crepes on the go.
But just being out, for now, is nice, too.
"An opportunity presented itself," Marinkovic said. "We're living the American dream. I'm very excited."
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