Food Trucks: NOT the American Dream

Food Trucks: NOT the American Dream
Courtesy red-october.net

America was founded on entrepreneurship and the courage to make great change for ourselves and our surroundings. That has become so ruined and forgotten over the years as a Poli-Sci major and jingoistic American it makes me sad. To open a business today because of an idea is no easy task no matter what industry you’re in. Yesterday, it came out that another food truck was putting the truck up on blocks and closing. To open a food truck in Chicago is akin to pissing in to a hurricane force wind!

The city doesn’t want you. Your fellow industry types campaign loudly against you. The organization built to shelter you is absent. Those paid to seek out truth are too self-absorbed.

Let me break down my frustration…

The City
Mayor Rahm and his buddy President Obama asked and promised that NATO would mean great things for Chicago. It was the equivalent of a good friend asking you to help move all his stuff on the hottest day in August then he asks for a ride to the airport during rush hour. Who gained? The city police forces image? Business suffered greatly and many residents were thrilled with a quiet traffic free weekend. YOU OWE US! There are easy wins in political life and adopting a forward thinking Food Truck ordinance is one of them. It’s been over a year with no help/movement in site. This issue should be solved in a week, A WEEK! This is low hanging fruit it’s easy. I don’t follow much of the city politics because I have low expectations but what has been better or different in the past year? Has there been a real difference in administrations?

The department responsible for this legislation is chaired but a restaurant owner. You’d think he’d welcome the growth and put selfish thoughts aside. Didn’t he once have a dream of opening a business and helping his family and making people happy? I’ve been told the police crack downs are coming from city hall. Well who told them to do this? I don’t think a cop harassing a cupcake truck is their own idea – next they’ll be ticketing children playing with an unleashed puppy in the park. Someone, somewhere said ticket, follow, and keep a keen eye on these scofflaws!

With the city broke I wonder – how much revenue could 50 mobile trucks produce for the city? Daily sales tax income? Purchasing gas – more taxes? License fees to prepare food – more income, no? If the city is broke they should be looking at all viable ways to bring in money before selling us all down the parking meter river, again.

Other Restaurant Owners
There have been two outspoken owners of “brick-n-mortar” restaurants; I’m done giving them any mention, which’ve openly campaigned against competition. There solutions make you wonder how they’re still in business with so little clue. Imagine when they opened if the city was out ticketing their valet and customers for parking issues. The health inspector came by weekly with surprise inspections. Would they seek help? Would they consider the business they got in to worth the headache?

Until a big name chef or restaurant group, builds a truck and gets harassed, I don’t know if anyone will notice. Imagine “insert nationally known chef” doing an interview for Food and Wine, NY Times or another national outlet that they were ticketed for parking or had a too well equipped truck – the fallout for Chicago wouldn’t be positive. We’d look like the middle of the country boobs they think we are.

I asked friends if I could tell their horror stories as examples and all replied with a kind no thank you fearing further retribution! Feels very Orwellian, Mr. Mayor.

The Lobbying Group
The Illinois Restaurant Association has many members and types of food outlets to protect and campaign for. Their silence and perceived lack of help is glaring. I know they’re in flux but this might be one way for me to help – volunteer my time and energy – to help the cause and the industry. I’ve reached out to sit on their Board of Directors. I’ve worked in the industry at all levels. I own my own business and have experience sitting on boards. I’ve seen the industry from all angles. I hope they take me seriously on my offer.

The “Truth Seekers”
Where is the investigative journalism in all of this? If there is a conspiracy theory why is no one looking for it? Challenging it? I didn’t go to Medill or a fancy journalism school. I had no desire to be Bob Woodward. The Sun-Times has a budget for freelancers and hopefully a desire to become relevant in the food section again. The Chicago Tribune has a platoon of writers concerned more with tweeting about the recent baseball draft, their pseudo-self and reminding us about how bad school lunches are or how to know when fruit goes bad in our fridge! Crain’s is at least scooping some news.

What do you all do all day? Focus on the next great bio of a chef we know about? Why did you get in to your profession? This is a story begging to be told. You work for papers with pedigree and history…WRITE SOMETHING RELEVANT!

You may ask why not the bloggers…honestly, this isn’t my full time job and I don’t have the backing or clout. Others are churning out close to 30-40 stories a week to entertain and inform – where do they have the time? If I was at a large paper or had its backing…I’d be sitting outside offices at city hall asking, bugging, and making it my mission to evoke positive change.

Can you tell I’m frustrated? I’m not asking anyone to split the atom or find the “God particle.” I’m asking for the city and all its brain trust to find a way to allow people to cook on a mobile truck. If we’re as good as the other metropolises of this country, why can’t we figure this out? Improve on their mistakes? There were once 50+ food trucks in this city; people of all backgrounds just trying to make a living, feed their families and following their passion. Perhaps the saying – Do what you love and the money will follow – is compete bullshit! These people have tried and they’ve only found debt and harassment by those that should be supporting them to achieve the American Dream.

Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at chicagofoodsnob@hotmail.com. Joe also contributes to Eater.com Chicago and mydailyfindchicago.com

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