The number of restaurants applying for food trucks has remained fairly constant since 2017, except for a drop-off last year, presumably because of COVID-19. One Council member says he thinks there is a real opportunity for growth in that business, which means revenue for the City.
Speaking at the June 7 Human Services Committee meeting, Council member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, said “I think it is a missed opportunity that we don’t allow for both food trucks and mobile food vendors to operate on our lakefront.
“Currently, the code disallows food trucks operating on our lakefront, and I think we should make an effort to allow for both food trucks and the hand push carts to operate right on the lakefront.”
The City Code prohibits food trucks from operating within 500 feet of schools and within 100 feet of public parks and beaches, said Ike Ogbo, the City’s Health and Human Services Director, in a memo.
Under the current process, food truck vendors must submit an application and allow an inspection of their cart or vehicle prior to receiving approval for food operations in Evanston, Mr. Ogbo said. He said the fee paid by the vendors is based on food-handling risks, which are broken down into risk categories.
The City does not charge any sales tax or profit from sales of food trucks in Evanston, he said.
Council member Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, asked staff why historically the City has not allowed food trucks at the beaches and parks.
Mr. Ogbo said the City does have the authority to allow food trucks in those areas.
“Previously we had a number of concession companies at our lakefront, where they had pushcarts and even a food truck at one point,” he said.
Ms. Revelle suggested officials could require food truck companies to reserve spaces for their food trucks “so that we could spread them out in the community.”
Mr. Ogbo said that would be his recommendation, so that “instead of having them congregated in one space,” staff could make a determination as to how many trucks would be allowed per beach.”
Lawrence Hemingway, the City’s Director of Parks and Recreation, pointed out that a question about commercialization of the City’s lakefront may come into play, referring to the Lakefront Master Plan.
The plan dates back to 2008, “so take that for what it is,” Mr. Hemingway told the Committee. “But the plan speaks to no kitchen space on the lakefront, or no restaurant,” he said.
Council member Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, who has been on the Council since 2011, was among those open to going in a new direction, so long as Evanston-based businesses would receive priority.
“I think what’s changed and what’s helped open my mind is COVID,” he said, speaking about the pandemic’s effect on businesses.
If opening up the process, so people having storefronts here gain additional revenue, “I think that would be my priority if we’re gonna roll this out as a pilot,” he said.
Mr. Reid said he agreed that the City should give preference to Evanston-based businesses in the start up of a program.
But he said he also would not want the City to cut off opportunities to bring in established companies from Chicago, “which has more of a food truck theme.”
He said officials should also consider limiting the number of licenses that can be issued per year for the program.
And he suggested the program should have a provision so that “if you’re not selling stuff, then your license lapses and somebody else can come in.”
“The Council is committed to looking at making the beaches free next summer,” said Mr. Reid, who pushed for the change, “so we should start looking at how can we bring in revenue and what is viable.”