Improvements to the Mobile Carts Ordinance

I'm proposing reforms so we can grow Chicago’s food cart industry.

I introduced a city ordinance in September to reduce license fees for mobile food vendors, or food carts.

Chicago’s food cart license fees are out of line compared to other large cities in the nation. New York, Boston, Phoenix and Denver all have food cart license fees under $100 annually, compared to Chicago’s $350.

We have the opportunity to create jobs and generate highly-needed revenue for the City of Chicago. The first step is breaking down financial barriers by reducing licensing fees. We should be encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit, not limiting it.

The proposed ordinance would amend the original 2015 ordinance that legalized food carts. Along with legalization, the original ordinance also requires vendors to obtain multiple licenses, creating a difficult and expensive application process.

Chicago has approximately 1,500 food carts, but only four licenses have been issued to food cart vendors since the ordinance was enacted in 2015.

In 2015, vendors sought out legalization and worked together with the city for their businesses to be recognized. But so many have been unable or unwilling to apply for licenses because they cannot afford the current license fees and the heavy regulations written into the ordinance. One of the most expensive regulations is the requirement for vendors to prepare food in an approved commercial kitchen. Many opt to use a shared kitchen,a commercial space where vendors can rent kitchen space. However, the vendor must pay for a license to use the shared kitchen, as well as pay for rent to use the space.

The proposed ordinance would reduce the following licensing fees:

  • • Mobile prepared food vendor: From $350 to $100.
  • • Shared kitchen, owner: From $660 to $350.
  • • Shared kitchen, supplemental: From $330 to $200.
  • • Shared kitchen, long-term user: From $330 to $200.
  • • Shared kitchen, short-term user: From $75 to $50.

Food carts have the potential of creating between 2,145 and 6,435 new jobs in the city, according to a 2015economic analysis by the Illinois Policy Institute. The Institute’s report also estimated that a successful food cart industry in Chicago could produce between $2 million and $8.1 million.

"Legalizing food carts was a huge step forward for Chicago, and now that the ordinance has been in effect for a year we can see where it needs to be improved," said Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute. "The proposals by Ald. Maldonado will make it easier for these hard-working entrepreneurs to work hand-in-hand with the city to expand and enrich the city's food scene. But more importantly, these improvements to the ordinance will help many food cart vendors live out their American dream."