Naperville food carts get preliminary nod of support

Downtown Naperville likely will continue to be home to two mobile food carts for the foreseeable future, but the fare may not always be limited to red hots and ribs.

The city's Downtown Advisory Commission members agreed Thursday to recommend to the city council that the 3-year-old food cart program be allowed to continue in perpetuity with the number of permits restricted to two. The recommendation also suggests the city annually seek requests for quotes from all interested companies, with a deference to established vendors.

The decision follows a period of several months during which city staff members fielded only one complaint, about a grease spot on a sidewalk, and a survey of 130 people earlier this summer that concluded the carts “add to the downtown ambience” but don't necessarily draw people into downtown.

The $275 annual permits currently held by two vendors — Joe Hornbaker of Joey's Red Hots and John Singleton of John's Rib House — expire on Dec. 31.

Planning Services Team Leader Allison Laff said those permits will likely be extended into the spring to give time for the quote process before issuing new permits, likely in March or April.

Vendors operate from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and from 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. weeknights. They serve until 2:30 a.m. on the weekends.

Singleton, who operates outside the central parking garage at Washington Street and Chicago Avenue, is excited for the opportunity to continue serving up his pulled pork and ribs.

“I'm definitely going to be reapplying to stay there next year. I hope I get the same spot,” Singleton said after the vote. “I think it's great. I'm very happy with the decision. Limiting the number of vendors to two is also a good decision.”

Hornbaker, who sells hot dogs and brats from his cart on Main Street just south of Jackson near the Riverwalk's horse trough fountain said he also is “very happy” with his current location.

Councilman Joe McElroy, who also sits on the commission, said he supports renewing the food cart program as long as the permits are capped at two.

“We finally have this thing working well so let's leave well enough alone,” McElroy said.

“If we expand it, we'll cause more unrest and I really want this to be less of staff's life.”

Property owner Dwight Yackley, Christine Jeffries of the Naperville Development Partnership and Katie Wood, interim president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce, all voiced concern that mobile food carts pose a threat to brick-and-mortar establishments, but only Jeffries voted against the recommendation.

The recommendation now goes to the city council.

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Naperville to conduct survey about downtown food carts

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