The Story of a Pie Truck In Hard Economic Times

Photo: courtesy Shirley Cherkasky

During the food truck hearing on Thursday, Glenn Keefer of Keefer’s argued that an economically-straitened time for city government is not the time to go experimenting with businesses that won’t generate big tax revenue and could take it away if they harm existing businesses in the tax base. There are many assumptions there that we would disagree with, starting with the idea that private enterprise has anything to do with “government experimenting” at all, but the one that surely is at greatest conflict with history is the idea that small business is riskier for society during an economic downturn. On the contrary, it’s almost always just what the doctor ordered for unemployment and stagnation, as it releases the entrepreneurial energies of those who’ve lost safer, steadier, but often less creative employment, and creates jobs faster than larger companies do. This logic is amply demonstrated in a talk from the recent Greater Midwest Foodways symposium on Road Food, about a successful food truck in the Great Depression, which WBEZ recorded in April and calls our attention to again.

Milwaukee-based culinary historian Shirley Cherkasky tells the story of how her parents responded to the Depression by launching a bakery delivery business and then starting their own line of pies— baked by her mom in the family kitchen. (Another thing, of course, that modern Chicago regulations won’t let you do— you have to use a commercial kitchen facility. Which may introduce other regulatory problems…) Anyway, Cherkasky’s talk was about 12 minutes; there’s a clip with yesterday’s story here, and the full talk is here.