Dave Spoerl, a local food truck operator and Fox Valley resident, makes award-winning barbeque and gourmet pizzas from his Slow Foods truck. His brown sauce has won awards in Memphis, home to some of the nation’s best barbecue.
But current city law in Geneva, Ill. does not allow street vendors–including food trucks, ice cream trucks and food carts–on public streets. Food truck owners like Dave have been forced to go to other neighboring cities that do not have Geneva’s prohibitions. So even though he’s on wheels and wants to serve you in Geneva, you will have to drive to the diner in Batavia or have a private party to sample Dave’s award-winning fare.
Meanwhile, a recent city report noted that Geneva’s downtown lacks inexpensive, quick-served food options. Right now you can grab a sub at Subway on State Street, go to the deli near the train station or buy a sandwich at the Great Harvest Bread Store. That’s it. The Geneva City Council should open up the streets to food trucks, so entrepreneurs like Dave can bring their inventive food and flavors to the city’s barren quick-service food scene.
At a recent city council meeting, one alderman argued that food trucks would “cheapen” downtown Geneva and hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants.
The reality is the opposite. Food trucks help bolster the local restaurant industry by increasing the number of customers available to restaurants, providing restaurants with an opportunity to promote their businesses, and enabling cash-strapped chefs to launch their first businesses.
Food trucks increase the number of customers available to restaurants through increased foot traffic. Consider the opposite: In New York’s Lower East Side and Chicago’s Maxwell Street Market, food trucks were banned and nearby restaurants took a hit. Food trucks draw people out of their offices and homes and into the community, opening their eyes to all of the meal options their neighborhood has to offer.Food trucks provide restaurants with a way to market and expand. Restaurant owners are launching their own food trucks to encourage more business. In Chicago, the owners of the Indian restaurant Curried started a food truck with the same name and the restaurant has since seen an uptick in business.
Food trucks often serve as incubators for new restaurants. Many chefs, without enough capital to start their own restaurant, got their start with a food truck. Finding success in the food-truck arena, these chefs then accumulated enough capital to launch their own restaurants. For example, 40 percent of the New York Food Truck Association’s members also have restaurants
Plus, the residents of Geneva overwhelmingly support food trucks. More than 80 percent of respondents have voted in favor of allowing food trucks in Geneva on Patch.com.
Food trucks are good for Geneva. They put people to work, create opportunities for self-sufficiency, and enrich the communities in which they operate with delicious, inventive and affordable food. Food trucks also serve as “eyes on the street,” helping keep communities safe.
As the city explores how to integrate food trucks into downtown Geneva, they ought to remember that anti-competitive laws that protect one business from the competition of another are unconstitutional and routinely struck down by courts. The Institute for Justice has successfully sued El Paso and Atlanta, and is currently suing Chicago and Hialeah, FL, over laws that unconstitutionally restrict street vendors’ right to earn an honest living. Geneva Alderman Dorothy Flanagan is right: the entrepreneurial spirit of food owners should be encouraged and will only enhance Geneva’s dining options. Give Dave’s brown sauce a try and then decide.
— Melinda Haring
Melinda Haring is the Activism Manager at the Institute for Justice