Illinois law has changed since this post was published. Read full and accurate details here.
If you are thinking about starting up a Mobile Food Vendor business, there are several things you should know about what is legally required.
Type of Business
First, as a general business matter, it is always a good idea to talk to a small business lawyer about creating a business entity (incorporating) to protect you and your personal assets in case something goes wrong. If you do not have a business entity in place and something goes wrong, you can be personally liable for the costs. There are several business models to consider. The good news is, it is relatively inexpensive to create an LLC or corporation, and you can end up saving a lot of money by protecting your personal assets from liability. Read more HERE.
Type of Food Truck
Second, you should know that there are a few different types of mobile food vendors. “Mobile food vendor” means a mobile food dispenser, mobile food preparer, produce merchant, or mobile desserts vendor. We are going to focus on the two most commonly thought of “food trucks,” Mobile Food Dispensers and Mobile Food Preparers. The reason we make this distinction is that each type of Mobile Food Vendor has its own requirements to fulfill and needs its own license.
“Mobile food dispenser” means any person who travels and serves previously prepared food that is wrapped for sale in individual portions, coffee, other beverages or whole and uncooked fruits or vegetables from a wheeled vehicle. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-8-010.) A Mobile Food Dispenser license is $700. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-5-010.)
“Mobile food preparer” means any person who travels and prepares and serves food from a mobile food truck. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-8-010.) A Mobile Food Preparer license is $1,000. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-5-010.)
There are several licensing requirements for both types of food trucks.
First, applicants are required to provide the name and address of the commissary where the vehicle will be cleaned and serviced, and if the vehicle is not stored there, the name and address of where it will be stored. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-8-036(a)(1).)
Second, to obtain a license, applicants have to consult with the health department so that the health department can review the applicant’s proposed business practice (including the proposed menu), vehicle that will be used, equipment that will be used, and food safety operations, which must comply with Chapters 7-38 (sanitation) and 7-40 (care of food) of the Chicago Municipal Code. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-8-036.) At the time of consultation, you must also show that you, or an employee that will prepare the food, have completed a Food Service Sanitation Manager Certification program and obtained a certificate. More information on certification can be found here.
Additionally, applicants who will use a propane tank or natural gas in the vehicle must obtain insurance that meets several mandated requirements, including: limits of not less than $350,000.00 per occurrence for bodily injury and property damage, issued by an insurer in Illinois, names the City of Chicago as an additional insured, and includes a provision requiring 30 days’ advance notice Chicago of cancellation or lapse of the policy. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-5-010.) These applicants are also required to consult with the Chicago Fire Department about the safety of the equipment.
The health and insurance documents, as well as a Mobile Food Vendor license, must be visible to the public at all times. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 4-8-045.)
Food Trucks, as well as all other food establishments, have to comply with Chicago’s Municipal Ordinances in how they operate. Some of these ordinances are typical food safety and sanitation, while others are not. They are all important to know and to comply with, so that the truck does not get stuck with city fines.
First of all, Mobile Food Vendors are required to get a GPS so that the city can ensure that the vendors are not in prohibited areas. These prohibited areas include areas near restaurants, crosswalks, stoplights, stop signs, or bike lanes, or on private property without permission. Mobile Food Vendors are also not allowed to have anything that amplifies sounds on the truck or to play music. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-115.)
Second, all food that has been prepared and wrapped must have certain information on the wrapper. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-105.) The individual utensils, such as forks and straws, must be individually wrapped as well. (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-100.)
For all of the applicable requirements, you can look at the Chicago Municipal Code:
- Requirements for all Food Establishments and Food Truck Vendors (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-001 to 7-38-128 and Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-40-005 to 7-40-390.)
- Requirements for Mobile Food Dispensers (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-130 and 7-38-132.)
- Requirements for Mobile Food Preparers (Chicago Municipal Ordinance 7-38-134 to 7-38-138.)
Tips from Other Sources
If you are looking to start a food truck business, it can be very successful with the right guidance. While we do not endorse any particular site or the advice that they offer, here are links to a few pages that offer tips to Food Truck Entrepreneurs from people who have experience in the area:
- The Modern Food Truck: How to Make a Successful Street Food Business in 3 Easy Steps (Food Service Warehouse)
- 4 Social Media Lessons From A Successful Food Truck (Forbes)
- 4 Practical Tips For Starting A Food Truck Business Right (Mobile Cuisine)
- Startup Tips From 5 Successful Food Truck Entrepreneurs (CBS News)
For More Information
For more information on getting a Mobile Food Vendor license, the City of Chicago’s Business Affairs & Consumer Protection (BACP) website provides a lot of helpful tips about what the departments and licensors are looking for in your application. Their resources section at the bottom of the page provides checklists and fact sheets that can be very useful.
If you still have questions about starting up a food truck business, talking to a small business lawyer might be exactly what you need. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (773) 609-3487 to schedule an initial consultation.
* Thank you to law clerk, Rebecca Lyon, for her assistance in researching and drafting this blog post.