New downtown Naperville food cart program 'cuts the mustard'
Naperville City Council members came up with a plan for continuing the city's often-discussed downtown mobile food cart program Monday night, and it's a plan almost all of them agree "cuts the mustard."
Two carts instead of four will be allowed to set up shop in the downtown -- one outside the central parking facility on Chicago Avenue and another along the Riverwalk -- under $275 permits for which vendors must apply every two years. Permits for the current vendors, John's Rib House and Joey's Red Hots, will be extended until the end of 2014 before the next permitting cycle will begin.
Council member Paul Hinterlong proposed the compromise as a way to reduce the amount of staff time spent on the 3-year-old food cart program, which has drawn some concern from downtown stakeholders about its potential to hurt business at brick-and-mortar restaurants. This year, staff members have discussed the food carts at several public meetings and studied downtown visitors' opinions of it through in-person and online surveys.
"This has been an ongoing headache," Hinterlong said. "It's a lot of work on our staff and only two (vendors) took it seriously."
Council member Grant Wehrli cast the only vote against changes to the food cart program.
"We have spent more time on these carts than anyone ever would have imagined," Wehrli said. "I still fail to see the benefit they bring to downtown."
But Hinterlong and council member Steve Chirico cited results of the in-person and online surveys, which found 84 percent of 130 respondents think the carts selling hot dogs, brats, ribs and pulled pork add to the downtown environment.
"I love those carts because of the ambience," Mayor George Pradel said, adding the city has spent enough staff time discussing the food carts to buy every resident in Naperville a hot dog.
The updates approved Tuesday differ from suggestions of the city's Downtown Advisory Commission, which recommended the permits for John's Rib House and Joey's Red Hots expire in the spring and future food cart permits be issued on an annual basis. Both the commission and the city council wanted the number of permits decreased from four to two.
Council member Robert Fieseler added to Pradel's hot dog quip with a few puns his own, stringing together the words "relish," "pickle," "ketchup," "mustard" and "roll" all while encouraging the council pass the amendments to the program.
"I don't relish the amount of time we've spent on it, but we were in a pickle," Fieseler said, adding the compromise of two-year permits "cuts the mustard." "Now we're on a roll, so let's pass it."