Food truck movie ignores food truck police

In a post on National Review Online, Institute for Justice staff members Nick Sibilla and Garrett Atherton give a mostly positive review to Chef, a new film comedy about the food-truck industry featuring several A-list stars and writer/director Jon Favreau, a former Obama administration speechwriter who also directed the first two “Iron Man” movies and “Elf.” What’s wrong with this effort?

[T]he movie diverges sharply from reality by giving scant attention to the No. 1 obstacle faced by many food-truck operators: restrictive and anti-competitive laws that, all too often, drive them out of business.

Take Greg Burke and Kristin Casper, [who] lost their jobs and opened a food truck in Chicago, the Schnitzel King. But the city, goaded by a handful of politically connected restaurateurs who don’t want the competition, passed a law that makes it extremely difficult to find places to vend downtown.

Chicago bans food trucks from selling within 200 feet of any restaurant, coffee shop, or convenience store. The problem is that there is some kind of food establishment on nearly every corner. Even crazier, the city is mandating all food trucks install GPS tracking devices so that the city can monitor vendors and enforce the 200-foot proximity ban.

Greg and Kristin joined a lawsuit filed by the Institute for Justice (IJ), a public-interest law firm for entrepreneurs, and sued Chicago in November 2012. But unable to vend where they wanted at the time, Greg and Kristin were forced to shut down and end the Schnitzel King’s reign last month. (They will continue their legal fight to save other food-trucks from suffering the same fate.)

Nor are these laws confined to Chicago. Out of America’s 50 largest cities, 20 — including San Francisco, San Antonio, Baltimore, Denver and Memphis — ban food trucks from selling near brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Readers of Carolina Journal should be familiar with the plight of food-truck operators in Raleigh and other North Carolina localities that use onerous zoning and other regulations to stifle this form of entry-level entrepreneurship.

Such real-world obstacles enforced by hidebound bureaucrats or impenetrable bureaucracies don’t have to be presented in a wonky or preachy manner. They could have offered a gold mine of humor, as movie watchers a generation ago laughed along with movies such as Ghostbusters or Brazil. Too bad today’s Hollywood has lost that aspect of its sense of humor.

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