While Twitter has been connecting Chicago foodies with the city's few food trucks for some time, truck owners say the service could ultimately lead to their demise -- due to some social media-savvy police officers.
Just like the wildly successful food truck fleets in New York, Los Angeles, Austin and other major cities, Chicago's small but growing food truck community often relies on social media to connect with customers at each of their scheduled stops. The Chicago Police Department apparently caught on, and is now using Twitter to track and heavily ticket business owners for allegedly violating the city's restrictive ordinances that prohibit them from preparing food on board or parking within 200 feet of a restaurant.
Truck owners say these restrictions, unparalleled in other cities with equally vibrant restaurant cultures, reduce their ability to be competitive and financially sustainable, and complain that police officers are aggressively ticketing food trucks.
In a recent complaint, truck operators accused police officers of intercepting trucks and handing out tickets based on their online destination announcements, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
“You can’t get me for premeditated selling of a cupcake,” Lupita Kuri, owner of the mobile bakery Sweet Ride, told the Sun-Times. Her truck's driver reportedly argued with a police officer who said he was ticketing the truck based on a Facebook posting about a planned stop.
By local blogger Food Truck Freak's count, there are roughly 58 food trucks currently operating in Chicago. But after two years of pushing back against the city's restrictive regulations, the prime spring and summer seasons could bring more trouble for the growing industry.
Food truck operators aren't only blaming the city and state for tough regulations: many are targeting the Illinois Restaurant Association, which has been lobbying for more restrictions on food truck operations. Critics of the trade group like Big Star Chef Justin Large told Chicago Now blogger Richard Lorenc fear of competition from "brick-and-mortar" restaurants are Chicago food trucks' biggest hurdle..
Restaurants say their aggression is justified.
“We’ve got enforcement issues, sanitation issues, traffic issues, and fairness issues,” Glenn Keefer of Keefer’s Restaurant in River North told Lorenc. “We pay $70,000 a year in property taxes to pay for the streets food trucks want to use."
When Illinois Restaurant Association chief Sheila O'Grady stepped down Monday, she said the food truck issue will be her successor's biggest challenge.
"It just needs to be done right," O'Grady said Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. "The city has really earned this fabulous reputation as a world-class dining destination, and whatever standards are adopted around food trucks should enhance that reputation. There's plenty of room for the trucks, but we think there should be standards. Our position has never been 'no.'"