A slim agenda but a full house greeted the Human Services Committee on Aug. 2. A proposed ordinance allowing mobile food vendors, essentially full service kitchens on wheels, on Evanston city streets provided they are owned by an Evanston business moved on to City Council with a positive vote. Backyard chickens, back before the committee once again, finally escaped to council, but did so with a negative 1-3 vote (Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, missed the meeting because of illness).
The mobile kitchen concept came to the City’s attention at the request of the driving forces behind Campagnola and Union Pizza restaurants. Steve Schwartz, Heather Behm, and Chef Vince DiBattista appeared before the Committee to describe their new truck and how they plan to use it. Although some controversy arose over the licensing fee and whether the higher fee would apply to smaller food vending trucks, the committee sent it on to council on a vote punctuated by Ald. Grover’s, “It can go to Council!” send via e-mail and read by Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward.
Mr. Schwartz described the differences between his mobile food kitchen and the “roach coaches” carrying pre-cooked food products to worksites to reporters touring the vehicle after the meeting. His truck, he said, operates as a full service kitchen on wheels with 12 burners, a deep fryer, steam table, microwave, flat top surface, refrigeration, drink well, and hand washing station. His team can prepare full plate service for up to 150 people, or buffet service for 300 out of the truck.
Ms. Behm said that the multi-faceted business plan included catering private events, providing meal service for film and other entertainment crews, and serving cooked to order food on Evanston streets at locations allowed by the new Ordinance. “We have no interest in competing with existing restaurants,” said Ms. Behm. Rather, the group (known as “Hummingbird Kitchens” and not Union or Campagnola) plans to site itself in underserved areas around town, including the lakefront and perhaps Evanston parks during special events.
Mobile kitchens are a new trend across the country, said Mr. Schwartz. Chicago has been considering an ordinance for quite some time, but the effort appears to be currently stalled. Speakers during citizen comment were all supportive. Becca Noyes summed up the sentiment, calling the concept, “The kind of thing that gets Evanston excited…[and] keeps it the urban-suburban place we like to live in.” The ordinance moves on to Council, and after the meeting several alderman could be seen touring the kitchen truck (custom manufactured by Custom Mobile Food Equipment in Hammockton, N.J.).
While the mobile food truck ordinance sailed past its roadblock, the chicken ordinance fluttered and sputtered out of committee on wounded wing. Though Council chambers was full of chicken supporters and the citizen comment sign-up sheet brimmed with those eager to voice that support, Chair Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, disappointed them. “Citizen comment is closed” as to the ordinance, she said, because comments were aired last month.
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, absent for the prior meeting, said that while he planned to vote “no” on the ordinance, he favored forwarding it to Council. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, agreed. Ald. Fiske called a vote, and though only Ald. Tendam favored the measure (the absent Ald. Grover has voiced qualified support in the past), the Committee voted to send it to Council for a full hearing because, according to Ald. Jean-Baptiste, “so many in the community have taken an interest.”
The flock of chicken supporters fled chambers with mixed feelings. They have finally escaped the human services committee’s cage, but without the committee’s support. The ordinance needs to gain the support of three of the four aldermen not on Human Services to pass.