ABA Journal

Food truck vendors dig in for a piece of street turf against brick-and-mortar restaurants

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Greg Burke is suing the city of Chicago: “I don’t
think they really listened to us. They just did
what they wanted to do.” Photo by Saverio Truglia.

Entrepreneur Greg Burke ekes out his living hawking sausages and breaded-and-fried meat sandwiches aboard the Schnitzel King, a food truck he operates in Chicago.

But he says restrictive local ordinances make it tough to keep his head above water. So Burke is suing the city for what he contends are anticompetitive practices designed to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants.

“I felt what the city was doing was really wrong,” says Burke, whose primary beef under Chicago’s amended food-truck regulations—passed in July 2012 and touted as more favorable to the trucks—is the preservation of a long-standing restriction that limits trucks from operating within 200 feet of permanent outlets serving food and drink.

“I don’t think they really listened to us,” he says about the members of the Chicago city council. “They just did what they wanted to do.” Burke and others among the growing ranks of mobile food vendors around the country have been taking issue with a host of related local codes. Besides physical restrictions, they include caps on the amount of time trucks can spend parked in one spot, fees for licenses and violations, and what they say is often the inconsistent interpretation of laws by police and other officials.

“Entrenched brick-and-mortar interests are going to use their considerable power,” says Baylen Linnekin, an attorney and executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based organization Keep Food Legal, which aims to limit government regulation of food producers and sellers and widen consumer choice.

“That sort of thing is replicated around the country,” he says, referring to Chicago. “It’s wrong every single time, and a growing number of lawsuits and public appeals and local/municipal decisions on the part of city councils are starting to push back and maybe even reverse that trend.”

Click here to read the rest of “Beef on a Roll” from the November issue of the ABA Journal.

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