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Food trucks readying to cook on board

With the passage of a new ordinance last month, Chicago has caught up with other major U.S. cities like Austin, Seattle and L.A. by allowing food trucks to cook and prepare food aboard their vehicles.

The City of Chicago's Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection reported Friday that 34 trucks have started the application process for a mobile food vehicle license. Twenty-seven of those are seeking a mobile food preparer license, which permits on-board cooking. The remaining seven seek mobile food dispenser licenses to sell pre-packaged, pre-cooked foods.

Under the new law, the food trucks' hours of operation will be extended, enabling them to operate from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. instead of the current  10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The city also plans to establish designated "truck stands" in major business areas such as Lakeview, Lincoln Park, West Town and the Loop. The stands are expected to be ready by late summer or fall. Trucks also will be required to install GPS tracking devices--at the owners' expense--by Oct. 1, so the city can ensure the trucks are parked legally.

Tom Alexander, assistant press secretary for the Office of the Mayor, said he expects trucks to begin cooking food on board as early as next week. Trucks with mobile food dispenser licenses who didn't cook previously but wish to cook or prepare food will need to upgrade to a mobile food dreparers license.

However, a few trucks already have been cooking under the radar for months.

Aaron Crumbaugh, owner of Wagyu Wagon and former chef at the Peninsula Hotel, said he has been cooking in his high-end street food truck for about a year. So far, he hasn't had any issues with city officials.

"I wanted my food to look good and taste good, and I knew if I put a kitchen on board, I could do that. Without [the kitchen] I couldn't accomplish the same level of food," Crumbaugh said. "The new law is a step in the right direction for food truck owners, but it isn't perfect by any means."

The biggest point of contention among food truck owners is the law's requirement that trucks not park within 200 feet of any food establishment, which was the existing limit. Some said the limitation is a clear example of how the city has been hesitant to fully embrace food trucks and continues to show favoritism toward brick-and-mortar restaurants. 

"The 200-foot rule is a little much. If it was cut in half or we didn't have it at all that would open up more possibilities downtown," said Jim Nuccio, co-owner of Beavers Coffee & Donuts truck, who has also been cooking on-board for months. He's stayed within the law by cooking on private property or in the suburbs.

Crumbaugh said he hopes he has a solution that will help sway the city's opinion on food trucks. He has been working with Amy Lee, owner of Duck N Roll food truck, and about 40 other truck owners in Chicago to create a food truck association. He hopes that by organizing food truck operators, it will give their voices some weight and give them bargaining power with the city, especially as the number of trucks continues to increase.

"There's gonna be a lot more trucks out, and there's gonna be a lot more competition," Nuccio said. "The trucks with the best food and best work ethic will survive."

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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