Chicago Food Truck Entrepreneurs File Lawsuit Against City, Join National Street Vending Initiative

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · November 13, 2012

Arlington, Va.—Should the city of Chicago be in the business of protecting restaurants from food trucks?

That is the question to be answered by a major lawsuit filed today in Cook County Circuit Court by the Institute for Justice (IJ)—a national public interest law firm—and three Chicago-area food truck entrepreneurs: Greg Burke and Kristin Casper of Schnitzel King, and Laura Pekarik of Cupcakes for Courage. The attorneys and entrepreneurs will be available for interviews immediately following today’s 10:30 a.m. news conference.

In conjunction with the lawsuit, the Institute is today releasing two national reports. Food Truck Freedom: How to Build Better Food Truck Laws in Your City provides recommendations to city officials on how to foster conditions that will let food trucks thrive, based on the best practices of Los Angeles and other cities that have experience regulating food trucks. Seven Myths and Realities About Food Trucks responds to the most common arguments made by those who want cities to “protect” restaurants from competition from food trucks. Using facts and real-world examples, IJ debunks each of these arguments.

“City officials shouldn’t be in the business of protecting restaurants from food trucks,” said IJ Attorney Robert Frommer, lead counsel in today’s lawsuit. “Thankfully, the Illinois Constitution protects the right to earn an honest living, and it acts as a check against cities trying to stack the deck in favor of industry insiders.”

Cities nationwide are experiencing the benefits of food trucks. The Economist magazine predicted that “some of the best food Americans eat may come from a food truck.” But for years Chicago had not embraced that movement. For example, Chicago did not allow cooking on food trucks and it told mobile vendors that they must stay more than 200 feet from brick-and-mortar restaurants. So in June when the city announced it would be revising its vending laws, food fans were excited.

The law that passed in July, however, was less than advertised. Although the law now allows mobile vendors to cook on board their vehicles, it is still illegal to operate within 200 feet of any fixed business that serves food, including supermarkets, convenience stores and even gas stations. The fines for violating the 200-foot rule are up to $2,000—ten times higher than for parking in front of a fire hydrant. And to enforce the 200-foot rule, the city is making food trucks install GPS tracking devices that broadcast their every move.

“Putting a GPS tracking device on my food truck makes me feel like a criminal with an ankle bracelet,” said IJ client Kristin Casper. “I think it’s wrong and I don’t want it on my vehicle.”

Chicago passed these protectionist provisions at the request of a few politically connected restaurateurs who do not want the competition, including Alderman Tom Tunney, who owns the Ann Sather restaurants and sponsored the measure. According to the Chicago Tribune editorial board, “the ordinance doesn’t serve the needs of the lunch-seeking public. It benefits the brick-and-mortar eateries, whose owners don’t want the competition.” But restaurants and food trucks peacefully co-exist elsewhere, with the best food-truck cities in the country also having thriving restaurant industries.

“Consumers should decide who wins or loses in the marketplace, not city officials,” said IJ Senior Attorney Bert Gall. “What made America great is freedom and competition, not hardball politics and backroom deals.”

Today’s lawsuit and reports continue IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living. Last year, El Paso, Texas, repealed its protectionist vending regulations in response to an IJ lawsuit. Cities looking for a better way to regulate food trucks should consult Food Truck Freedom and Seven Myths and Realities about Food Trucks, both available online at

For more on the lawsuit and reports, visit The Institute for Justice is the nation’s leading legal advocate for the rights of entrepreneurs. IJ is available on Facebook, YouTube and twitter.