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Food Truck Clusters Grace Chicago

by Eman Shurbaji
May 15, 2014

Eman Shurbaji

Food trucks a new option for hungry people in Chicago.

The food-truck business is different, and in Chicago it's really different.

Since food trucks are not allowed to be within 200 feet of the entrance of a street-level restaurant, food trucks are restricted in where they can park. The end result is clusters of food trucks lined up for business.

Despite these restrictions, owners and workers don’t worry about parking next to other trucks, and the competition this may cause. Trucks have learned to face competition by not only offering different cuisines, but choosing locations strategically.

“Everybody orders something different, so two days they might come here, and three days later they might go somewhere else,” said Kayla Benegas, who works in a sandwich truck parked in the 100 block of South Clark Street in the Loop.

It’s all a part of the new food truck scene in Chicago, which includes trucks catering a variety of cuisines to hungry people.

Zack Minasian, owner of The Big Shish truck, which serves Mediterranean kabob meals, is elated with his Chicago business opportunity because it's expanding, in contrast to other cities where trucks and their locations are well-established.

“From research I’ve done, Chicago doesn’t have a food truck scene like other cities.”

Misasian is right. The food truck scene in Chicago picked up in July 2012 after the City Council allowed on-board cooking. This is a stark contrast with cities like New York and Los Angeles, where food trucks are an ingrained in downtown culture.

Joseph Magliari and Coleen Dickman work at DePaul University and find food trucks convenient.

“I like food trucks because you can get different things from each truck,” Magliari said.

“Different things” include artisan grilled cheese sandwiches at Cheesie’s truck, tamales at the Tamale Space Ship and pizza from Giordano’s. There are dessert options too, like cupcakes from Ms. Title’s cupcake truck or frozen yogurt from the Starfruit Café.

“Vincent [truck owner] was one of the first to bring the cronut to Chicago,” Benegas said.

Mika Stambaugh, director of communications for the City of Chicago, says Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for more food truck zones.

“Mayor Emanuel will introduce a plan to City Council to add six more dedicated mobile food truck stands in higher-density areas that would provide the space to operate in addition to the legal parking spaces food trucks currently use,” said Stambaugh. “This would bring the total number of dedicated food truck zones to 36.”

Bystanders can easily notice the lines and bustling scene on the 100 block of South Clark Street. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., crowds form around food trucks—with as many as five lined up at one time.

As of April 30 the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection licensed 74 mobile food vehicles, and 25 of them cook on board.

Regulations are spelled out by the city, with details ranging from piping to food temperatures and preparation.

Still, customers displayed enthusiasm with food trucks as restaurants. It gives them options at comparable prices, without long waits.

Joseph Donahue happily grabbed lunch at a truck on Clark Street.

“I ordered the gyro and hummus,” he said.