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Westmont food truck owner wants to know: Why won't Downers Grove allow food trucks?

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 10:34 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:58 p.m. CDT

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DOWNERS GROVE – Giuseppe Badalamenti started selling his wood-fired pizza, stuffed rice balls and other treats from his food truck, Chicago Pizza Boss, in Westmont and surrounding suburbs this fall.

But he'd like to sling pizza slices in Downers Grove, too, where he grew up and graduated high school.

The problem for Badalamenti is, Downers Grove doesn't allow mobile food vendors outside of permitted events like downtown festivals.

He's hoping Chicago Pizza Boss can bring attention to his style of business, which recently became popular in California cities, spawned a hit TV show, and became legal in Chicago, with restrictions, last year.

"I'm just out there trying to pursue my chosen occupation," said Badalamenti, 36, of Westmont. "And it's actually an occupation that brings joy to a lot of people."

The food truck trend has been slower to catch on in the suburbs, but Westmont officials say trucks like Chicago Pizza Boss can help fill a void when they operate in business parks or other areas that aren't walking distance from brick-and-mortar restaurants.

"He's going into places that are under-served, basically," said Westmont Community Development Director Shannon Malik. "We're excited that something like this has come to Westmont. It's exciting to see on the calendar of Chicago Pizza Boss's website when he's coming through town."

She said that so far, Chicago Pizza Boss is one of few trucks, but that she hopes more will follow.

In addition to stopping in Westmont, Schaumburg and others suburbs, Badalamenti serves private parties, and at businesses that don't have food, such as Urban Legends Brewery.

In Westmont, food trucks pay a $200 annual fee, and must prove county health certification to get a permit, among other requirements. Some cities that also allow food trucks, like Elmhurst, have more restrictions about where and for how long trucks can stop to sell food.

Elmhurst Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp said those rules are there to protect restaurants and limit congestion, among other reasons.

"You don't want a hot dog truck to sit in front of a hot dog stand," he said. "It covers a lot of different things."

Badalamenti said he tried to set up shop in a parking lot in Downers Grove last month, mistakenly assuming that since it doesn't have a specific food truck ordinance, there was no law preventing him from doing so. He was asked to leave.

Downers Grove village code doesn't ban food trucks by name, but a section of the code does bar them in practice.

"No person shall sell, offer for sale or make a stopping place for the purpose of selling, offering for sale, exhibiting, keeping or storing any merchandise or other property on any public property, including, but not limited to, any street or other public right-of-way …" the code reads.

Badalamenti said he unsuccessfully tried to contact village staff about the possibility of a new ordinance.

Downers Grove Mayor Martin Tully said food trucks have not been brought to the council's attention during his time as a commissioner and mayor.

But, if there is interest in the community to explore an ordinance, he would be open to the discussion. He referenced business types that didn't exist in town 10 years ago – sidewalk cafes and wine bistros – that the village wrote ordinances to allow for once there was demand.

"When things like this are brought to our attention, and if they make sense, and is something the community would find desirable, we certainly have a history of looking at it and accommodating it if we can," he said.

Commissioner Becky Rheintgen echoed Tully's comments, saying that the topic has not come before the council, but that she'd be open to the idea.

Sales taxed generated from mobile food vendors go to the municipality where the sale occurred, according to Kopp.

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