Food trucks are wildly popular in markets along the East and West coasts, and now they’re making their way into the country’s heartland, tweaking the cuisine to add regional flavors and new touches and sometimes running into the same roadblocks as their coastal peers.

Chicago mobile eateries are on the move, despite a city ordinance that prohibits chefs from preparing the food inside the trucks. City officials are debating the merits of allowing food trucks to install mobile kitchens, and the end of the ban may be in sight – killing the prohibition was in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s campaign platform, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. An interesting side note: On the ABC midseason replacement show “Happy Endings,” one of the 20-something Chicagoans downsizes his dream of opening a restaurant in favor of a steak sandwich food truck, but so far viewers have never seen whether the vehicle has a kitchen in the back.

Food truck operators in the nearby suburbs may not face the same legal restrictions but the more spread out the neighborhoods means growth moves at a slower pace as operators try to find the hungriest spots. Many also have to overcome an image problem, according to a recent article in the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, as well as opposition from brick-and-mortar eateries concerned that the trucks, which cost much less to operate than traditional restaurants, have an unfair edge.

Mobile eateries with a twist also are on the move in other noncoastal markets, from Minneapolis, which recently welcomed sustainable Central American cuisine from the operators of Hola Arepa, to Louisville, which dubbed its recent inaugural celebration of the food truck revolution The Food Truck Ruckus, led by the owner of Morel’s Vegan Cuisine.

In Indiana, mobile chefs are getting creative and working to meld more than one hot food trend into their businesses, according to USA Today. New options range from chef Becky Hostetter’s South Indian cuisine aboard the Duos truck to Kate McKibben’s “healthy comfort food” at Mabel on the Move. These new Midwestern operators say they’re foregoing cutthroat rivalries in favor of creating a sense of community around healthy, affordable fare.

Along with growth and success comes opposition, as it has in Chicago and other major markets where food trucks have begun making their mark. In Cleveland, Dim and Den Sum is in expansion mode with plans to launch a second truck and hire 10 more employees. The growth plans were nearly thrust onto the back burner earlier this year, though, after complaints from brick-and-mortar restaurateurs led to new rules that kept the trucks from operating downtown at lunch time. A temporary truce has since been hammered out, with trucks being allowed to operate in certain parts of the city, according to a story on WBEZ’s website.

Now that food trucks are becoming more common in markets around the country, do they pose a serious threat to brick-and-mortar restaurants? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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7 responses to “Food trucks start to flourish in the Midwest”

  1. […] Food notices the food truck trend branching out from the coasts and into the […]

  2. richard says:

    They have hit Milwaukee as well and are hard to sell to from an Equipment point of view as they are not certain of what the codes are and health inspectors aren't certain all the time either.

  3. Jenna says:

    That's a good point, Richard, I can Imagine that there will be a lot of head scratching concerning legality in places where this is a new phenomonon. I didn't really think of that, but there are many places like Austin (which I'm suprised wasn't mentioned in this article) where there has been a growing presence and increased competition among these trucks. I believe that with the steady rate at which the market for this has been evolving it will be interesting to see what creative entrepreneurs come up with in a such a cut-throat atmosphere. (and also how laws will change to accommodate or constrain food trucks)

  4. Peter Madden says:

    I have a food truck in Texas, I also have a Brick and Mortar restaurant. My truck serves as both a source of income and as a medium to advertise both of those entities. Our city, College Station, went through a 3 month process to write ordinances dealing with Mobile food units and I was present at several meetings to offer opinions. One of the biggest complaints was that it would affect the already existing restaurants. As a restaurant owner I understand that delimma and would not want a truck to park too close to my restaurant. The city put in a 300ft buffer around restaurants. The more I thought about it the more I realized that the success of my restaurant is based more on me and how I run my business, and take care of my guests than it is about a competitor.

  5. Peter Madden says:

    The other aspect that really bothers me about this arguement? That the truck has an unfair advantage over brick and mortar. Isn't that what competition is based on? Can I find a better way to do something that costs less. If McDonalds is able to buy beef at less cost than Burger King, doesn't that give McDonalds an unfair advantage? If two similar restaurants open in close proximately to each other and one barters a better deal with the landlord, isn't that an unfair advantage? I don't want the Government (the City) deciding what an unfair advantage is between competitors. What's the answer? In my opinion; limit the number of permits issued the city. That way you create a waiting list of trucks ready to pounce on those trucks that consistently break ordinances, health codes, etc…

  6. James Murray says:

    Check out Madison, WI of all places. We have had a mobile food culture for over 30 years. JM

  7. We have a handful of food trucks that form a "Food truck court" in downtown Saint Paul, Minnesota, every Wednesday during the lunch hour. They are extremely popular. Here's a video of them:

    I really don't think they pose a risk to brick & mortar restaurants. One of the trucks in our food truck court is owned by a local brick and mortar and, having tried them when I went to check out the food trucks, I liked it so much I'll be going back to their physical location. So I think they are great marketing for places that have both a truck and an actual location.
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