Food Trucks and Carts Could Get Their Own Logan Square Lot

© Rick Majewski/Eater Chicago A tamale cart in Pilsen.

Logan Square could get a park for food carts and trucks if a new development comes into fruition. The project would transform a pair of lots near the 2500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue. The carts and trucks would go into a 7,000-square-foot parking lot on the 2400 block of North Sacramento Avenue, according to Block Club Chicago.

The lots are owned by the city and the plan’s in its early stages. Block Club mentions the project would make space for Mexican food vendors. It mentions the Mega Mall, demolished in 2016 to make room for the new development that includes a Target. The mall’s closer displaced a longtime tamale vendor and the new food cart park would give the vendor new space. Block Club says community leaders and Ald. (32nd Ward) Scott Waguespack are pushing for the plan.

Food trucks and carts are often seen as entryways for burgeoning business owners to start their own enterprises as the costs are lower than operating a traditional restaurant; there’s no rent, utilities, or other expenses to worry about. Food halls offer similar benefits, but in the end, chefs still have to answer to the hall’s owners and worry about non-compete clauses, and do tastings to try to prove themselves.

Over the years in Chicago, elected officials, restaurant owners, and lobbyists have created an “us versus them” narrative, scripting food trucks as threats to traditional restaurants, arguing that owners of sit-down venues will lose customers to trucks and carts. However, restaurant owners near the proposed food truck park are in favor of the plan. Bixi Beer chef and owner Bo Fowler says she hadn’t heard about park until a call with Eater Chicago. She iterates that food trucks are excellent entry points for chefs without a lot of capital. Bixi is across the street from the development.

“I don’t think more businesses is a bad thing in this climate,” she says. “If more people want to enter the market, it’s a good thing.”

Doug Psaltis, chef and co-owner at Andros Taverna, says he had heard a little bit about the plan. He says it has the potential to be a good thing for Chicago. Andros neighbors the proposed park and Psaltis doesn’t see food trucks and carts as competition. The park could be a way to enhance the area and retain what already makes the neighborhood great, he says.

Still, Logan Square isn’t a neighborhood starving for restaurants and the area is known as one of the more dynamic dining hotspots in the city. Why not establish a food truck park in one of the city’s food deserts, encouraging vendors to sell their wares in underserved communities?

There’s no answer for that. But the focus of the Logan Square projects appears to be giving food carts space. Chicago isn’t known for its food carts like other cities (yes, like Portland). But in Logan Square and its surrounding areas, motorists can often see vendors hawking tamales, elotes, paletas, and other items. The city has taken more steps to encourage street cart vendors in recent years. Many of these vendors only speak Spanish without a lot of resources to open their own restaurant. This predicament is best illustrated by Claudio Velez — the Tamale Guy — who sold food at bars for 20 years before he was in the position to open his own restaurant.

Additionally, these vendors often spend the Chicago winters in freezing cold trying to sell their food without much of an audience outside or customer base. A set spot for them, a safe space (perhaps with electrical outlets for outdoor heaters) where customers could find them, could be a game changer. Though Chicago is a Sanctuary City (with many restaurants part of that effort to protect refugees and immigrants), project officials will have to work to establish trust within the vendor community. Immigrants have their own fears about the government that will need to be addressed. Velez is aware of this: He briefly shut down his operations in last year after the city sent him cease and desist letters, not wanting to attract the attention of immigration authorities.

And in other news…

—Speaking of Bo Fowler, many fans of her first restaurant, Owen & Engine, are wondering whether the farm-to-table and British gastropub will reopen. The restaurant hasn’t been in operation since 2020. Fowler says she’s been deluged by texts and inquiries. It’s hard to find workers for a single restaurant, she says; two is a lot more challenging. But there is light beaming from the end of the tunnel: She’s started to assemble her staff to reopen O&E. While nothing is immediate, Owen & Engine will reopen. Fowler’s just unsure when.

—Illinois breweries had a big night at the Great American Beer Festival last Friday, September 10, in Denver, taking home a combined 16 medals — including a gold in the Juicy or Hazy India Pale Ale category to Destihl Brewery in downstate Normal for its Tour Bus hazy IPA. This was one of the most competitive categories, with 427 entries. Destihl also took a bronze in the Juicy or Hazy Imperial India Pale Ale category for its Haze of the Dead. When Destihl co-founder and CEO Matt Potts heard the news, he told the Tribune’s Josh Noel, he screamed so loud, he alarmed the people in the next hotel room. Other local medalists include Goose Island Brewery, Short Fuse Brewing Company, Old Irving Brewing Co., Pollyanna Brewing Co., and Alarmist Brewing.

—Chicago hotel revenue is down 86 percent in 2021 compared to 2019, Crain’s reports, translating to a loss of $2.2 billion. COVID-19 caused a dramatic drop in tourists, but also in conventions, a major source of business for Chicago hotels. Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, told Crain’s that he’s confident the industry will recover, but not until 2024 at least. The group has asked Mayor Lori Lightfoot to allot hotels $2 billion of the money the city is receiving from the latest federal COVID relief bill to help them survive.

Sundays on State, which closed State Street to automobile traffic on eight summer Sundays in favor of food trucks, street performers, art displays, shopping, carnival games, outdoor barbershops, and more, has been a successful endeavor, the Chicago Loop Alliance reports. An average of 67,000 people attended each event, coming from all parts of the city and bringing pedestrian traffic on State Street back to pre-pandemic levels. In addition, attendees visited other attractions in the Loop, spending a total of $12 million.

—The Chicago Bears have announced the four winners of their Small Business All-Pro Gameday Eats initiative: Moody’s Pub in Edgewater, Cocoa Chili in Garfield Park, Peppo’s Subs in Palos Hills, and Cleo’s Southern Cuisine in Bronzeville. The Bears will partner with each restaurant for four weeks, promoting them on the team’s social media channels and in official newsletters and on game days at Soldier Field. This is the program’s second year; it is cosponsored by Visa.

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