Northwest side food truck operators support lawsuit against city

Lupita Kuri, owner of Sweet Ride, supports herself and two children with her food truck business.

Northwest Side food truck operators are enthusiastically supportive of a lawsuit filed against the City of Chicago on Wednesday.

The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based law firm, filed the suit on behalf of two Chicago food trucks – Schnitzel King and Cupcakes for Courage – in the Cook County Circuit Court.

The lawsuit lashes out against two elements of a City Council ordinance passed in July. The ordinance requires Chicago food trucks to park at least 200 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants and to carry GPS tracking devices on board, so that officials can monitor trucks’ adherence to the 200 foot rule – and make sure they’re parking in designated “food stand” areas.

According to the lawsuit, the ordinance “exists simply to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from competition.”

“We have to stand up to these arbitrary rules,” said Laviyah Israel, owner and operator of Ste Martaen, a vegan food truck.

Israel often operates in Wicker Park and Bucktown, and decries how the current ordinance limits the way she does business in the area. If a customer calls and requests a drop off at a certain spot – say, in front of a Caribou Coffee – Israel has to flag them down from her truck and meet them down the street, the requisite 200 feet from the café.

“If you’re running a legitimate business, you don’t want to have to do that,” she said.

Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, says that the ordinance’s GPS requirement is hardly necessary, considering many truck operators are active on social media. Food trucks often use Facebook and Twitter to update prospective customers on their current and future parking spots.

“We don’t hide where we’re going,” Le said.

In fact, some food truck operators have been stung by law enforcement because of their judicious social media updates. Lupita Kuri, the owner and operator of Sweet Ride, a desserts-based truck, often tweets about her current location to lure customers. On one occasion, she said, a police officer pounced soon after she parked. He informed Kuri that he learned of her location from a social media post.

“I hadn’t even sold a cupcake yet,” Kuri said.

Kuri said she quit her full-time job in April 2010 to operate Sweet Ride. The small business has employed up to seven people, but is currently down to three. She expressed concern that that number could soon be zero, if Chicago’s regulations don’t change.

“I support my family off of this,” she said.

Kuri testified against the current ordinance at City Council committee hearings earlier this year. She said that she often felt demeaned and belittled by council members.

“It’s like being bullied,” she said.

The Institute for Justice filed a similar lawsuit in El Paso, Texas in 2011. That suit resulted in the city’s passage of a less restrictive food truck ordinance.

Hearings for the Chicago suit are scheduled for May.

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