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Chicago chefs race to make food trucks reality

The Flirty Cupcakes truck in Chicago

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Gourmet food trucks are the latest craze in a lot of major cities, but not in Chicago. Red tape there is making it impossible to cook on the go. From Chicago Public Radio, Tony Arnold report.


Tony Arnold: You might want to call food trucks the anti-drive-thru. The idea being chefs can bring food to customers anywhere they are.

Matt Maroni has cooked at several high-end restaurants in Chicago. But now he's looking to make it on his own, and he's leading the charge to bring food trucks to the city. The only issue being current law forbids trucks from being licensed kitchens.

Mark Maroni: It's got to be properly ventilated, you have to have wastewater systems and freshwater systems and things of that nature and that's all part of the code. That's why the code is such a beast.

That's where Scott Waguespack enters. He's a member of the city council who is working to make cooking in mobile kitchens legal. He says food trucks are a valuable member of the community.

Scott Waguespack: They are job creators. They are fun. They get food out to other parts of the city that might not otherwise have it.

Not to mention the city can collect additional taxes. But Waguespack says he's running into some resistance. Other members of the city council are worried about what they consider unfair competition... Like a food truck serving burritos parking right outside of an already-established Mexican restaurant.

Still, one company called Flirty Cupcakes is already trying to make a variation on food trucks work. Their cupcakes are baked and prepared in a licensed kitchen, loaded onto a van, then served from any open parking space downtown. It has a huge following on Twitter full of people waiting to see where the van is parked.

Tiffany Kurtz runs Flirty Cupcakes. She says it was hard trying to comply with all the codes.

Tiffany Kurtz: Although some things didn't make sense, I quit trying to fight it and it was more like, "OK, if you're telling me this is what it's going to take, then that's what I will do."

Kurtz says business is good, and she's hoping to expand to the suburbs. Meantime, Chef Matt Maroni's still hoping just to get off the ground. He recently opened a brick and mortar restaurant called the Gastro-wagon. Admittedly - the "wagon" part of that name will make more sense - assuming he gets his permit for a food truck.

In Chicago, I'm Tony Arnold for Marketplace.

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