Chicago not the only city in Illinois keeping out food trucks

In Chicago, food trucks aren’t allowed to operate within 200 feet of a brick-and-mortar restaurant. These mobile businesses struggle to survive in pockets of busy, overcrowded “parking zones,” which are the only places they are allowed to sell to hungry customers.

Vendors have endured a long struggle with City Hall for the right to do business in Chicago.

"Opening and operating a food truck in Chicago is somewhere between difficult and impossible," said Robert Frommer, an attorney for the D.C.-based 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."

But it turns out Chicago isn’t the only place where officials don’t want to allow for innovation in local cuisine.

City Council in Peoria, the state’s seventh-largest city, voted down a proposal to legalize food trucks in 2012. The proposed ordinance, which was as strict as Chicago’s in many ways and even worse in others, at the very least would have made it possible for food entrepreneurs to pursue their businesses and bring new flavors to residents.

At the time, Mayor Jim Ardis (who still holds office today) told the Journal Star newspaper: "I firmly do not think [the ordinance] will create new people spending money to eat out in Peoria," Ardis said. “… The existing brick and mortar business people have to pay for air conditioning when its 100 degrees out and pay for heat when it's 10 below. The mobile vendor keeps his truck in the garage."

Ardis is wrong to expect that expanding business opportunities and dining options in his city would have a negative effect on the community. And he’s wrong to project negativity on a new branch of the local restaurant industry because it doesn’t have to incur the same costs as brick-and-mortar competitors. Food trucks don’t offer the same dining experience – they don’t provide the same ambience as traditional restaurants and they certainly won’t replace them. Food trucks don’t offer the chance to slow down and savor a meal. But they do provide great dining options for customers who are on the go and want to experience something new.

Now Peoria City Council is considering food trucks again. Councilman Ryan Spain told Peoria Public Radio: “I hope that with food trucks, this is just my view, that we might attract a few more people downtown. But I also think we have huge opportunities to retain more of the people that work downtown, that are constantly leaving to go somewhere else.”

The mayor shouldn’t decide what residents can eat and who can serve it to them based solely on the fact that he thinks allowing a new model “isn’t fair” to entrenched businesses. What’s not fair is the intentional, politically forced exclusion of dining options that would bring new flavors – and new work – to the city.

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