Don't Be Fooled By 'Taste' - New Flavors Are Frowned Upon in Chicago

Chicago likes to shackle food-truck operators.

Food trucks can't operate within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar business that sells food. Food trucks must have a GPS tracking device so government officials know where they are. Food trucks can only sell food in 35 city-approved, specifically designated locations.

But from July 8-12, 60 vendors will serve food from stands - outside, from carts, tents and trucks at the city's 35th annual Taste of Chicago.

Most of the vendors are brick-and-mortar restaurants, such as The Purple Pig, Lou Malnati's and Billy Goat Tavern & Grill. Fifteen food trucks, some of which also have a brick-and-mortar presence, will be at the food festival as well.

Though brick-and-mortar restaurants and food trucks will be comingling at the festival, their relationship remains tumultuous.

In 2012, the city approved restrictive new rules that limited proprietors' ability to do business in the city. A year later, Emanuel joined the Food Network on its show "The Great Food Truck Race" for an episode titled "Chicago is a food truck kind of town."

"We remain committed to creating the conditions and opportunities that will allow this industry to thrive, create jobs and support a vibrant food culture across Chicago," Emanuel said in a 2013 statement.

Rahm's words don't line up with the consistent actions he and other city leaders have taken for years. The truth is, Chicago isn't a food-truck town - it's a special-interest city, where political connections reign supreme and organic innovation is seen as a nuisance that would upset the established order of things.

Those backing the city's restaurants make no secret that the main driver behind the city's oppressive rules is to protect established businesses.

Alderman John Arena, 45th Ward, who cast the only "no" vote on the 2012 ordinance, said: "A brick-and-mortar restaurant lobby got ahold of [the ordinance], and it was stuffed with protectionism and baked in the oven of paranoia."

So while Rahm's words describe a city that welcomes food-truck innovation with open arms, his actions prove the city wants to keep the industry on a short leash.

"Opening and operating a food truck in Chicago is somewhere between difficult and impossible," said Robert Frommer, an attorney for the Institute for Justice. "The city has put together a menagerie of rules that seem almost intended to make it as hard as possible to open up and be successful."

Taste of Chicago offers an illusion of a city where powerful players coexist with new flavors. But this veneer is far from reality. Once the festival packs up and Grant Park clears out, Chicago will go back to normal: a brick-and-mortar oasis, shielded from competition from outsiders.