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Chicago Aldermen Could Finally Partially Lift Food Cart Ban With New Ordinance

Lawmakers want to tax the carts after allowing them on Chicago streets.

Will aldermen lift the food cart ban in Chicago?
Will aldermen lift the food cart ban in Chicago?
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Chicago could see an influx of street food vendors if the city council votes to lift the partial ban on food carts later this month. Aldermen are pondering an ordinance that would regulate these small pushable food carts, requiring vendors to buy a $350, two-year business license. This would allow carts to sell items like coffee, tamales and fruit, but not without a few restrictions.

Under the ordinance, smaller food carts would face the same restrictions food trucks faced prior to 2012 in Chicago. That means they wouldn't be allowed to prepare food (even slice fruit) on site. Aldermen changed the food truck law in 2012, allowing mobile kitchens so vendors could prepare food on their trucks. The idea behind the restrictions is to have operators prep food in a shared kitchen to make city inspector's lives easier, said Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), who proposed the measure, alongside Ald. Willie Cochran (20th).

A vote is expected on Sept. 24. Meanwhile, as for what the Tribune calls the "trendier" food truck sector, trendy Sen. Mark Kirk still wants the city to remove stifling food truck regulations. He argued that the restrictive laws (such as making it difficult to obtain a business license) make food truck operations more difficult in Chicago compared to other cities like L.A., D.C. and Austin, Texas, places where the trend's been thriving for years.

Despite being illegal on Chicago city streets, Crain's reports about 1,500 food carts operate in the city, according to data from the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank. Those carts, which sling prepackaged ice cream and whole fruit, are particularly in low-income, Hispanic areas. So why not tax the poor and hope more carts pop up?

Would food carts be welcomed in areas like The Loop where workers need a quick bite? Or are they a boon for food deserts, particularly on the South and West sides? If only The Halal Guys saw this coming.