Keefer’s Food Truck Argument is Misses Many Marks

by Alex Levine, May 12, 2012

Alternate title considered: Glenn Keefer: Playah, please!  Glenn Keefer’s article on food trucks was published this week, and backlash ensued. We could refute his article point by point, but some of our friends have already done a great job at that. Instead, we want to call attention to the bigger issues it both brings up and also fails to address.

Important note: Food Truck Freak has and always will be consumer-focused; we have no affiliation with either side of this arguement. We love restaurants and food trucks equally. The founder and all contributors of this site are all consumers.

Keefer is Fighting Against Consumers, Not For Them

It seems like Keefer is doing everything in his power to empty his own dining room. Waging war against food trucks may seem to Keefer like he’s fighting for his customers when in actuality he is fighting against them and squandering his public image. Many of our readers who used to dined at Keefer’s said they’d never step foot in his restaurant again after reading this article. Why? “Now when I think of Keefer’s I think of this [article]. There are plenty of great steakhouses and lunch spots in town, I don’t need to go to one that makes me feel awkward at the mention of its name,” said one reader.


Severely Uninformed

Several issues Keefer brought up underscored his reputation for being out of touch, especially when he said trucks are “peddling substandard fare while often breaking rules, clogging traffic and littering our streets.” Scrub off the disdain and condescension dripping from his words and you are left with an argument that doesn’t hold up.

His “litter” argument is exemplary of this. If Keefer knew more about food trucks, he’d know that litter is not an issue at Chicago trucks nor those in other major cities. Chicago’s food trucks must hand food to you in to-go containers, so virtually no one eats at the truck so they don’t produce any more litter than other to-go food establishment. Other cities that allow fresh food to be made to order don’t report to have an issue with this, even huge cities like Los Angeles (according to a presentation given at the Mobile Food Symposium by Greg Kettles from the Office of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa).

Here’s another way to think of Keefer’s argument: Have you ever given one child 3 quarters and his sibling 10 pennies? The child with 3 quarters may flip out, screaming until they’re blue in the face and emptied of all the tears they can produce because they see it as a blatant injustice. Keefer is the kid with 3 quarters; he has exponentially more resources and luxuries at his disposal than food trucks do. That’s what paying higher taxes affords you (not the right to public streets and walkways). He has the capacity to serve more customers while providing them with a comfortable and reliable place to eat with table-side service. Yet he still cries foul and is throwing tantrum, all the while both he and his “parents” (good ol’ Chicago politicians) get the stink eye from every onlooker. He truly doesn’t understand the great position that his restaurants are in. His elevated vocabulary and name-dropping may give the illusion that this is a well-formed argument, but it is simply a gussied up meritless fit.

Many often ask why the two parties don’t sit down and discuss this matter civily; Keefer’s article is representative of why that isn’t happening. Food trucks are willing and able to do so, it’s the restaurant side that is throwing a wrench in that opportunity. The truth is met with low blows, extreme hostility and unfounded arguments. The bigger question at hand is why is nothing happening on the city’s side? They have remained strategically silent, yet they’re the ones at fault for this debacle (see the next section for details).

In a different way, this reminded us of last night’s episode of Shark Tank; highly talented business owner Billy Blanks Jr. (son of Tae Bo creator Billy Blanks) walked away from a huge opportunity from Daymond John. Blanks thought he was fighting for what he believed in, but he didn’t understand the deal. John and the other investors were shocked; it was apparent to all of them that he truly did not understand what was being proposed. Once John ran after him and explained the opportunity in different words, Blanks talked with John to clarify which part he had misunderstood and that it was in fact a phenomenal opportunity for all parties involved and took the deal. The community is trying to talk the same sense into Chicago restaurant owners; improving food truck legislation can be advantangeous for everyone involved (including brick-and-mortars).


Diversion Tactic Hiding The Real Issues

This fight isn’t about brick-and-mortars. The driving factors to amend Chicago’s food truck legislation are three-fold:

  • Current legislation impedes upon the rights of consumers: If you’re worried about losing customers to food trucks, that is more telling of the lack of confidence you have in your food and it also shows a lack of understanding of the customer; do you think a customer descending from their office for lunch awaits the signs of the universe to make their lunch choice for them? Of course not. That person knows what they feel like eating, what budget they have to work with, and if they need to grab it quickly and go or sit down and be served. By keeping trucks at a distance, you impede the right of consumers to make that decision for themselves. It’s a monopoly won by the brick-and-mortars, and it needs to change.
  • Current legislation is in breach of citizens’ constitutional rights under the 14th amendment entitling citizens to the right to earn a living without arbitrary government interference. Current laws are protective of the brick-and-mortar business model, and that’s outright unconstitutional.
  • Make the grey areas of food truck legislation black and white The grey area in food truck laws is what causes much of the issues. Making the law black and white would protect all involved and even address Keefer’s points about public safety and food standards. Food trucks and restaurants should  have to follow the same rules in terms of cleanliness, and trucks should be able to park in any legal parking spot for however long parking laws permit. Current laws force them to move every two hours, which is part of the traffic issue that Keefer mentions, which Kettles noted as one of the reasons why Los Angeles doesn’t force trucks to close up after serving for only a short time. If anything, Keefer’s points validate the arguments of his perceived enemy.

The arguments that restaurants are throwing out there are in anticipation of how righting the above wrongs affects their business. Fair enough. However, the ways in which they may (or likely may not) be affected by this, are fully legal and in line with the competitive American spirit. Our food trucks and restaurants should co-exist peacefully like they do in every other major U.S. city. Now, the ball is in the city’s court to bring this issue to justice. What say you, Emanuel?


Update (May 12th, 2:23 p.m.): One point we forgot to mention is that we have to give Keefer some credit; he is the only Chicago restaurant owner who has come out of the shadows and gone public with his position against food trucks. That takes courage. Though we may not agree with him, he is at least engaging in public discourse on the issue. Side note: It’s a little ironic that he is taking some proverbial bullets for exercising his constitutional right to free speech for advocating for the continued oppression of the constitutional rights of others.


  • Judd Cadiz

    Great read! Let’s not give Glenn Keefer too much attention though. Bad or good publicity is still advertising he didn’t pay for.

    With the mayor brushing off food trucks as a high class problem, (see: May 1st Facebook Town Hall Meeting) the best thing we food truck fans can do is continue our undying support. I’ve been part of long lines during lunchtime which is AWESOME. Nighttime food truck events have been hit or miss (trucks sellout REALLY fast at Fischman’s vs underwhelming attendance at Ethyl’s. With summer approaching, let’s continue to show up in droves. Truck operators wake up way too early, perfect their cuisine no matter how crazy the rules are, and drive ungodly amounts of miles just to feed us every day. But of course, you already knew that!

  • sundevilpeg31

    I love that Alderman Waguespack posted this on facebook, as part of an ongoing dialogue in this issue. He is the biggest advocate that the food trucks have, simply because relies on facts and commons sense, commodities in exceedingly short supply on the Chicago City Council.

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