Food cart vendors who want to sell you food in Chicago say the city is making it too difficult for them to do it legally. In fact, only four licenses have been issued since the city legitimized the mobile food cart industry nearly one year ago.
Daniel Trejo makes a living selling tortas to hungry customers. Trejo said when he went to apply for a mobile food vendor license, he was presented several different options.
“There’s a lot of confusion on what exactly license we need,” Trejo said.
In addition to a mobile food vender license, the city requires vendors to obtain a shared kitchen license. This allows for the city to regulate and inspect the preparation of the food.
Trejo said he prepares his food in a restaurant’s kitchen before selling it out of his cart. He also promotes his business, Danny’s Tortas, on social media. However, he said he has yet to obtain his mobile food vendor license.
“For me it’s really important to get my license quickly,” Trejo said. “I can show it to my customers. Once they look at it, they feel more secure and it’s more business for me.”
Abraham Celio, owner of Yolis Tamales, is one of the city’s only licensed mobile food vendors. He bought a kitchen where family members prepare food for his custom-built carts.
Celio said he spent more than $15,000 to make his new restaurant and push cart business fully compliant with city regulations.
“It’s very difficult to get the license if you don’t have a procedure or a way to package your food and then maintain the temperature,” Celio said.
According to Celio, more vendors would apply for a license if the city made the process easier and more affordable.
This week, Alderman Roberto Maldonado (26th Ward) introduced a city ordinance to reduce license fees for mobile food vendors. His proposed ordinance would reduce the cost of a food vendor license from $350 to $100 and the cost of a shared kitchen license for a long-term user from $330 to $200. Maldonado is also encouraging city leaders to lower the license costs for shared kitchen owners from $660 to $350.
“If those fees are reduced, shared kitchen owners may be more willing to work with the vendors,” Maldonado said.
Illinois Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research and education organization, said Chicago has approximately 1,500 food carts. According to an economic analysis by the Institute, food carts have the potential of creating between 2,145 and 6,435 new jobs in the city.
“Here is a group of people who are ready to operate, they want to pay their taxes, they want to be good operating citizens and yet they’re being held back by regulations and high costs,” said spokesman Ted Dabrowski.
The Institute also estimates that a successful food cart industry in Chicago could produce between $2.1 million and $8.5 million in new city and county sales tax revenue.