L&L-12-12- Food Fight
Mobile food vendors, like IJ client and Cupcakes for Courage owner Laura Pekarik, create new culinary experiences and jobs which help create a more vibrant community.
Just as mobile food vendors hit the road each day to satisfy the needs of hungry consumers, the Institute for Justice is hitting the road on behalf of these industrious entrepreneurs with groundbreaking new efforts in Chicago and across the nation.
In less than two years, IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative has made us the leading national advocates protecting the economic liberty of street vendors. Our groundbreaking 2011 report, Streets of Dreams, documented the anticompetitive restrictions vendors face in America’s 50 largest cities. Meanwhile, our litigation team brought suit against protectionist vending laws in cities across the country, including El Paso, Atlanta and Hialeah, Fla.
Now, the National Street Vending Initiative is gearing up for its greatest challenge yet: opening the streets of Chicago to mobile food vendors.
Chicago’s nascent food truck entrepreneurs like Greg Burke embody that city’s drive and persistence. Burke was laid off during the recent construction slump. After trying to find other jobs, Greg took a gamble. For years, he served schnitzel sandwiches at Chicago Bears tailgates to rave reviews from his friends, so Greg invested his life savings in a vintage Jeep with the dream of becoming Chicago’s Schnitzel King. Together with his fiancée, Schnitzel Queen Kristin Casper, the two have created a small, thriving food truck business they can call their own.
Chicago food truck entrepreneur Laura Pekarik shows how food trucks create jobs and are often stepping stones to bigger things. Pekarik owns the Cupcakes for Courage food truck. After her sister, Kathryn, was diagnosed with cancer, the two worked on cupcake recipes to keep their minds off Kathryn’s illness. Once Kathryn recovered, Laura took those recipes and opened her food truck. Cupcakes for Courage’s success has let Laura expand her business by opening a brick-and-mortar bakery in Elmhurst, Ill., this past September.
Chicago food truck owners were encouraged earlier this year when the city began updating its out-of-date vending laws. (Chicago, for example, was the only major city in the nation to prohibit cooking on board a food truck.) But a few politically connected restaurateurs, including an influential alderman who owns several restaurants in the city, saw the new law as a way to distance themselves from their mobile counterparts. The law keeps food trucks from operating within 200 feet of any brick-and-mortar business that sells food, which, in effect, makes running a food truck nearly impossible in large swaths of the city, including The Loop—downtown Chicago. The law also imposes fines that lay bare its true anticompetitive intentions: A food truck that now sets up too close to a restaurant can be fined up to $2,000, but the fine for parking in front of a fire hydrant in Chicago is only $100. In an Orwellian twist, every food truck in Chicago must now be equipped with a GPS tracking device, which lets government officials spy on the truck to see if it is illegally competing.
Robert Frommer is an IJ attorney.