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Panel pushes for food trucks at lakefront

Committee hopes to see food service near the beaches before this summer is over.

Josep Suria/Shutterstock

Evanston’s Human Services Committee Monday night directed city staff to develop plans to permit food truck along the city’s lakefront this summer.

The city currently doesn’t permit food trucks at the lakefront and Parks Director Lawrence Hemingway says police were called to chase off an unlicensed vendor just last weekend.

The city’s 2008 Lakefront Master Plan indicated that public feedback favored only “minor” concession operations at the lakefront and that those should be part of new restroom structures and should exclude “significant facilities such as grills or kitchens.”

But the committee, now composed entirely of members who weren’t on the City Council in 2008, showed no inclination to follow that guidance.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the trucks could provide a new revenue source for the city, and perhaps offset the cost of not charging residents for beach tokens.

“I hope we can move forward so we can get this implemented this summer,” Reid said, adding that he’d also favor allowing push cart food vendors at the lakefront.

Health Director Ike Ogbo said that the city in some past years has had a concession company operating a stand at the Dawes Park lagoon and push carts at other beaches.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the city serves food at other facilities — like the Crown and Fleetwood-Jourdain community centers — and he saw no reason not to do it at the lakefront.

But he suggested giving preference to Evanston-based businesses. “Somebody coming in from outside,” he asked, “does that impact our whole market?”

Health Director Ike Ogbo said currently the city only has three fully-licensed food trucks that are based here. He said most vendors are based in Chicago and would rather pay for a temporary permit here, rather than get a full license.

“We have to figure out a way to attract and sell” the concept of operating at the beach “to those food truck companies,” Ogbo added.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said the city should collect sales tax on the food sold by the trucks, something Ogbo said hasn’t been done in the past.

Braithwaite said he was concerned that vendors could easily avoid paying tax on their sales. “They can have multiple devices on their phone to cheat the system,” he said.

The committed directed staff to present a proposal for lakefront food trucks to the full City Council next month.

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