Chicago Food Trucks Get Their Day in Court

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · June 13, 2013

Arlington, Va.—Today, Judge Peter Flynn of the Cook County Circuit Court ruled from the bench in a lawsuit brought by three Chicago food truck entrepreneurs and the Institute for Justice (IJ) against the city’s anti-competitive vending law. The judge denied the government’s request to approve the city’s food truck regulations without reviewing the facts of the lawsuit.

“Today the court showed that it is truly engaged and will not act as a rubber stamp for the government,” said IJ Attorney Robert Frommer, lead counsel in lawsuit. “Illinois courts have long been clear that lawsuits should be decided on a careful examination of the facts and consideration of the Constitution. We are confident the courts will ultimately rule that city officials shouldn’t be in the business of picking and choosing winners and losers in the marketplace.”

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 has refused to embrace the food truck movement. In July, Chicago revised its vending laws, but kept in place an anti-competitive law that makes it 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 Chicago’s 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 now forcing food trucks to install GPS tracking devices that broadcast their every move.

“Today was a huge victory,” said IJ client Kristin Casper, who serves as Director of Media Relations for Chicago’s popular Schnitzel King food truck. “We’re looking forward to ultimately winning, and protecting the constitutional rights of all food truck entrepreneurs in Illinois.”

Chicago passed its protectionist vending provisions at the request of a few politically connected restaurateurs, 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.

The lawsuit was filed in November by the Institute for Justice and three Chicago-area food truck entrepreneurs: Greg Burke and Kristin Casper of Schnitzel King, and Laura Pekarik of Cupcakes for Courage. It continues IJ’s National Street Vending Initiative, a nationwide effort to vindicate the right of street vendors to earn an honest living.

The Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty. For more on the lawsuit, visit