Businesses Target ‘Guerrilla’ Food Trucks

CHICAGO (CBS) — Even before Chicago decides whether to legalize mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises, downtown businesses are struggling with another intrusion on wheels: “guerrilla marketers” and food trucks that set up shop in no-parking zones and sell pre-packaged goods.

John Chikow, president and CEO of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, said the Magnificent Mile has been overrun by mobile businesses illegally hawking their wares, creating traffic jams and endangering pedestrians.

“They’re not pulling into a legal spot, paying the meter and doing their thing. Their strategy is to park in no-parking zones, cab stands and adjacent to crosswalks and either display their products or attempt to sell. We have a major problem with traffic flow and pedestrian safety,” Chikow said.

One of the biggest offenders is Flirty Cupcake, which advises its customers when and where its truck is going to be on Facebook and the company’s website.

Chikow also has pictures of an illegally-parked vehicle distributing samples of Muscle Milk and another marketing, which bills itself as a “super-fast mobile internet service.”

The problem has gotten so bad that the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association has distributed a form letter to his members urging them to “call 911 to report such activity.”

“I looked out the window recently and saw a Muscle Milk vehicle that had pulled right into the crosswalk near the Women’s Athletic Club [626 N. Michigan Ave.] Cabbies were stopping in the middle of the street trying to get a free milk. You’ve got cars and buses trying to turn south on Michigan Avenue,” Chikow said.

“These guerrilla marketing tactics are putting the public at risk and taking advantage of the population we have here in a very unsafe way.”

Mobile food trucks are currently permitted in Chicago, but they can only sell pre-packaged foods. They must also be legally parked.

A movement has been afoot for some time to bring gourmet food trucks with cooking on the premises to Chicago. They are popular in many cities across the country, from New York and Los Angeles to Minneapolis and Austin, Texas.

But in Chicago, there are numerous restrictions that all but prohibit them. In addition to the rules forbidding cooking onsite and the restrictions on parking, there are also rules that forbid trucks from staying in one place for more than two hours, or selling anything after 10 p.m., a Chicago Reader article explained last year.

An ordinance was introduced in July of last year that would ease the regulations on food trucks.

It was written in part by Matt Maroni, the owner of the Gaztro-Wagon mobile food truck and eatery in the Edgewater neighborhood. Since last spring, Maroni has been leading the movement to allow greater freedom for food truck operators.

“For years the ‘taco truck’ has been depicted as a dirty, unsanitary vessel serving food from questionable origins,” Maroni’s advocacy Web site says. “Today, this new mobile food truck movement has completely changed the consumers’ opinion by increasing the quality standards of the food, service and sanitation offered by these trucks.”

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) backed the ordinance, which has yet to come up for a vote.

But the ordinance has met with some stiff resistance. The Chicago Sun-Times has reported that restaurant owners have been mobilizing to try and block City Hall from legalizing the food trucks and creating an “unlevel playing field” for their brick-and-mortar businesses.

Illinois Restaurant Association President Sheila O’Grady even went so far as to suggest a possible compromise: confining rolling restaurants to “food deserts” and neighborhoods with a shortage of brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Given the problem that already exists with guerrilla marketers and food trucks selling pre-packaged products, Chikow said he’s not about to endorse the idea of mobile food trucks with cooking on the premises. It would only make an already unsafe situation worse, he said.

“There’s no one in favor of this right now,” he said. We’ve got people who have invested in facilities. They pay taxes. They hire employees and buy ads. They’re doing all this stuff and somebody comes in who doesn’t do all this stuff and they’re competing in the marketplace.”

–The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

  • SmartyPants

    It is incorrect to say that no one is in favor of mobile food trucks. There are many consumers looking for cheap, interesting food sources in the city. Like any other business, those trucks would employ people, they would pay taxes, they would advertise. And, they would fill a market void. Brick and mortar restaurants still have a valuable place in the economy, but as an option, not exclusively. You can;t stop progress. The issue here is that the city needs to enforce safety and traffic rules ragrding any marketing effort, whether it’s a food truck, a sampel giveaway or some other activity. That’s not reason to ban food trucks that perpare food on premise.

    • JT

      Agreed. SmartyPants this is an example of brick and Mortor places trying to bully the little guy. If you purchased a McDonalds and a Burger King opened across the street from you. You wouldn’t say a word. So why is it a big deal if a Food Truck is nearby? Unless they are blocking the doorway (which they don’t do) or are in the middle of some road then its a problem.

  • dallen

    i agree with smrtypants

  • FR


  • Tom Henley

    most of these “Roach Coaches” are operated by independent operators and do not have any employees. I have seen these trucks at factories, warehouses for years and most of them are anything but sanitary – thus the name Roach Coach

  • SRS

    Hahahahaha! Roach Coach! That’s nasty! I have seen these types of things at auctions and the people that run look just as nasty as the food they are preparing and selling!

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  • Jimmy Crack Corn

    bring the food paddy wagons out. They should be inspected and licensed monthly. Bring more competition. People are increasingly strapped for time and something good and cheap would be great. Especially late night downtown in RIver North. The only place to get a bite to eat after 2am is rock n roll mcdonalds and who wants to eat that and risk getting shot up by the thugs that go there.

  • JT

    Actually the food trucks they are reffering too are 100 times cleaner than any roach coach! And you can see them cooking your food. Unlike some restaurants. The only people who are probably against this are bitter restaurant owners who want all the profit. I’ve been to New York and the Trucks Spend Money on Advertising and Every Legal small business pays taxes off of what they sell and purchase. So to say they don’t is a ridiculous lie.

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