Champaign to launch pilot program to test mobile food truck legislation

The City of Champaign is looking for more information on the impact of food trucks in the community, so city officials have decided to launch a pilot program that allows mobile food trucks to operate over the summer.

Food trucks will be able to operate in seven specific downtown and Campustown areas for up to two hours at a time between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. The program will run until August with hopes to give the Champaign City Council some more information when it meets June 26 in a study session about the current food truck regulations in the city ordinance.

“(The pilot project) gives us kind of a real-time opportunity to see what the impacts would be,” assistant planning director Rob Kowalski said.

Champaign law currently treats the trucks as peddlers and would force food trucks to move to a different location about every five minutes — in the same way most ice cream trucks operate.

When Crave Truck owner Zach Ware began pushing the city for change, the council decided to look it over.

The project will extend past just allowing trucks to operate. Kowalski said the city intends to gauge the interests of both business owners and mobile food truck vendors.

Permanent businesses have a problem with food trucks being able to stake out near their establishments because the trucks draw away potential revenue. Kowalski said the locations selected for the summer by the city were specifically chosen so they wouldn’t be in direct competition with any surrounding businesses.

Champaign mayor Don Gerard has expressed his support for changing the law and making it more manageable for food trucks to operate in the city. He dismissed the arguments against food trucks, saying the people who want to go to a sit-down restaurant are a much different crowd than those trying to buy food from the truck and go.

“It’s sort of like saying, U of I has a baseball team, then why do we allow little leaguers to play because people might go to those games instead?” Gerard said. “It’s just different things.”

Gerard said he’s heard support from Tony Pomonis, owner of Merry-Ann’s diner and candidate for the soon-to-be vacant District 3 city council seat, who reached out to him and would support legislation to allow the trucks to operate.

The Crave Truck differs from other businesses that have food trucks in Champaign, such as Burrito King or Mas Amigos, which also have leased property.

The Crave Truck is the only business to take advantage of the pilot program, though Kowalski expects and is hoping for more to join eventually.