Although Chicago's current food truck ordinances have been altered to allow on-board cooking, it is pretty unlikely that you have seen many trucks taking the city up on the offer. Many of Chicago's food truckers, including Nida Rodriguez of The Slide Ride, are calling the ordinance misleading and, at best, vague.
"They allowed us to have cooking on-board on one hand, but to me, it wasn't really allowing cooking on-board because they put a time limit of a two-hour parking spot. That means the truck can only be parked in one spot for two hours and we have to be GPS'd so they can monitor that. The time that it takes to set up a cooking-on-board truck and break down a cooking-on-board truck can be up to an hour and a half. [That gives food trucks] forty-five minutes to set-up, and forty-five minutes to break down. You really don't have any selling time if you were to cook on-board, so I don't see that as a viable option with the way they phrased the ordinance."
Having hit the roads in March of 2011, Rodriguez is now one of the older trucks on the scene. Her seasonal menu features up to eight mini-sandwiches and a few mini-burgers, including favorites like Pork Belly (braised pork belly and apple slaw on a sesame bun); The Reuben (corned beef, saurkraut, and bacon dressing on rye); and what Rodriguez says is the most popular slider on the menu, The Bacon Baby Burger (Cheddar-topped Angus Burger, brown sugar bacon, and caramelized mustard onions on a sesame bun.)
I spoke with Rodriguez by phone this week; she gave some insight as to what it is like to deal with food truck competition, parking issues, and told us why owning a food truck is the hardest challenge she has faced.
What is the story behind The Slide Ride? My background is actually in corporate finance, but I really wanted to get into cooking so I opened up The Slide Ride to get into the food industry.
What skills have you applied from your career in finance to your career as a food truck vendor? I have my degree in finance, and I was getting my masters in marketing and finance at Kellogg. It's definitely helped me a lot when it comes to running a business, managing finances, and being able to market the business.
I am sure there are times when you need a break from making sliders. What do you like to cook when you are at home? I really love Italian food. I am very into making sauces all day long and very into Sunday dinners. Italian food is definitely one of my favorite things to cook. I am Puerto Rican, so I do a lot of Caribbean-style food. That's just home to me. That's comfort food.
Who taught you to cook? I watched a lot of cooking shows. I remember watching Julia Child on TV as a kid, and my grandmother really liked to cook. I don't speak any Spanish and she doesn't speak any English, but we were able to connect through food. She would teach me how to make things. She was an amazing cook. She had ten kids and she was always cooking.
On a scale of one to ten, how hard is it to own a food truck? This is the hardest thing I have ever done. With this business, there are just so many variables to it. There's the parking situation, there is the weather situation. In Chicago, people are very restrictive and in Chicago you have the police chasing you; you can't park in certain spots, so it's hard to get close to your customers with the regulations because you have to be 200-feet away from a restaurant. This blocks us out of a lot of areas where people want our food. So, I would say a nine or a ten. It's pretty intense. The operating margins are pretty small for us because we have to rent our kitchen space as well as take care of all the foods associated with the truck.
Have you seen an impact on the trucks? I have seen a lot of people coming off the road or not running as much. They are doing more catering, or going out to the burbs. I have seen it slow down a bit.
What do you do when you want to take a break, grab lunch somewhere, or use the bathroom? Can they still ticket you even if you aren't selling? How does that work? They have not been very clear about that. The ordinance is not very clear at all. There are a lot of questions going back and forth. I haven't been able to get clear answers about either parking or operation, so I really don't know what they decided on that because it's very vague.
How do you figure out the routes? Does it every get a little competitive with turf? Well, I have been around for a while and thankfully I have a good customer base, so I just try to keep it somewhat regular in my stops. But there are days when there are like ten or twelve trucks in one location so it's tough to get parking. There are definitely issues sometimes in the morning over everyone going over to the same spot. For the most part, though, people are respectful of each other. We try to keep an eye on where everyone else is going so there isn't a big pile-up in one spot and nobody at another spot. And we kind of keep an eye on each other. I have found all the truck owners are pretty respectful on not hitting everyone else's spots. We're small, so it's better that we work together.
Where do you see The Slide Ride in three years? I really like the food truck business. I really like that I can go where people want me to go and all the interactions I have with the customers, and the social media aspect of it. I like that I can go to my customers, so hopefully I am not driven out by the government's food truck regulations. I'd also like to have my own kitchen space to do deliveries and I'd like to open additional trucks. I also like teaching cooking classes, so I'd love to have a space to do that on the weekends. I definitely want to stay within the food industry.
The Slide Ride
The Slide Ride hits scheduled weekday stops Monday through Friday. Rodriguez can also be found at street fests and booked privately for wedding receptions, events and corporate parties. Find out more about The Slide Ride on its website or via Facebook or Twitter.
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