Naperville ending downtown food cart program

Updated 8/23/2018 4:15 PM

Naperville has decided to stay a one-food-cart-town.

The city council took a preliminary step toward eliminating its downtown mobile food vendor program, which allows two licensed businesses to sell meals from carts on the sidewalk, and replacing it with grandfathered privileges for the one consistently participating vendor to continue operating.


This means John Singleton from John's Rib House in Lisle, who posts his cart near the central parking garage on Chicago Avenue, can continue to do so as long as he chooses, city officials said. No other carts can join him.

The end of the controversial program, which some city council members said drew more conversation and staff effort over the years than it was worth, will come during a future meeting when the council is expected to vote officially to end the vendor privileges.

This comes nearly a decade after the presence of food carts, which could sell sweets or snacks or sandwiches in the downtown environment without paying rent or special service area taxes to support maintenance and marketing, riled many downtown brick-and-mortar business owners, city council member Judith Brodhead said.

Each time the topic would come up when vendor permits were soon to expire, Brodhead said, the debate would go like this: Business owners in the Downtown Naperville Alliance and the city's downtown advisory commission would object to what they saw as unfair competition. Then, city council members, "more sympathetic to the entrepreneurial spirit" of vendors willing to stand beside carts late at night in all weather, would continue to allow the permits to be available.

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"We've done that cycle several times," Brodhead said. "I understand what the downtown business owners thought, but also it seemed to add a little something to the downtown ambience."

The last two times the permits expired, in 2015 and 2016, the council chose to issue two of them to John's Rib House and Joey's Red Hots. But after the most recent two-year permits were issued, Joe Hornbaker of Joey's Red Hots moved out of state and stopped operating his hot dog cart along the Riverwalk at Main Street and Chicago Avenue, Allison Laff, deputy director of transportation, engineering and development, said in a memo.

That left only John's Rib House. Council members said they're happy with how it's working with just his business selling ribs near the parking garage.

So instead of directing staff members to conduct an open application period for other businesses looking to vend, the council decided to end the program, but allow Singleton to stay.


Singleton did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

"We have one operator that seems to be doing fine," council member Kevin Coyne said. "Leave it at that."

Downtown Naperville is also a largely food-truck-free zone. Laff said food trucks are prohibited on downtown streets. The only way they could operate in the downtown is if they find a property owner who lets them locate their truck in a private parking lot.

Food trucks can, however, park on commercial properties outside downtown Naperville, and Laff said they are encouraged to do so.

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