Any food truck operator can tell you that they’re going to get a certain quantity of tickets, just for existing. But far from the popular view that food trucks are coming to be an accepted feature of the scene, there are signs that in fact the police are acting on a concerted agenda— from somewhere— to crack down on them and basically chase them out of the downtown area. That’s the claim made in Mark Brown’s Sun-Times column today, and also in a piece posted recently at the website Food Truck Freak. Ironically, Brown says food truck operators seem to think that this is fallout from a meeting they had with the city a month ago to make their case for a pro-food truck ordinance:
During that meeting, [DucknRoll truck owner Amy Le] said, city officials casually asked about the best truck locations. In the days immediately afterward, police showed up at each spot and either ticketed the trucks or ordered them to move. Among the popular spots targeted were: Randolph and Franklin; Superior and Fairbanks, and 600 W. Chicago near the offices of Groupon, whose employees not surprisingly are very fond of food trucks.
Food Truck Freak reports similar “stalking” by police, citing a series of tweets in March by Sweet Ride:
“The police were following us & informed us they are tracking our Facebook!! / You figure if they can get a food truck on ANYTHING, it’s $500 a pop per ticket. / But we did nothing wrong so no tickets. But they told us they were going to follow us so we called it a day. Stinks that we are scared to not do business.”
We are, as always, glad to know that things are so peaceful in Chicago that the police can tail food trucks for “premeditated selling of a cupcake,” as one truck owner characterized her offense, but as often happens, regulations which sound reasonable (no, food trucks shouldn’t pull right up in front of taxpaying brick and mortar restaurants) result in government squashing competition on behalf of the well-connected. If your building’s food court is so sucky that everyone who can would rather walk outside to get a tamale, why should taxpayers foot the bill for the police to chase away your competition? (Shouldn’t the police feel silly that they’re on cupcake duty to protect mediocre restaurants? Was the thin blue line meant to have sprinkles?)
Chicago has had more than a year to figure out how to encourage food truck entrepreneurship in a way that doesn’t affect existing businesses more than the normal rigors of competition ought to; that the Emanuel administration is no closer to solving this, and seems to be working underhandedly instead, is a scandal. As Amy Le tells Brown, “The rules are written to pretty much put us out of business and not let us grow as businesses.”