I’m not sure how it compares in importance to the Illinois pension crisis, or chemical weapons in Syria, but Naperville has been running a survey to evaluate whether the downtown mobile vending program should move forward. Put in more prosaic language: Do you guys still want food carts?
The survey, run by surveymonkey.com, consists of four questions that I will paraphrase. How many times have you bought food from a cart, why did you choose a cart, do you visit the downtown more often because of food carts, and do you think carts add to the ambiance of the downtown.
For the John’s Rib House cart, that as far as I know serves the late night departing patrons of Naperville’s infamous tavern district, I would suspect the most honest answers would be who the bleep knows, nothing else was open, are you kidding, and what’s ambiance?
Ambiance, of course, simply means surroundings, and can be either good or bad. However, since the ambiance of the central parking garage at 2 a.m. could only get better, the answer regarding that food cart has to be unequivocally yes. It would have to be an incredibly nasty cart to make it any worse.
But of course the survey isn’t about that cart, is it? Nobody I’ve talked to could possibly care any less who serves the drunks at 2 a.m. If eating a little pork fat helps them not drive their cars into things as they return to wherever they came from, they consider that “a good thing.”
No, as it always has been, the “food vendors” survey is about Naperville’s original, and only other food cart, Joey’s Red Hots. Joe Hornbaker serves hot dogs, polish sausage, bratwurst, chips and soft drinks from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. many days on Main Street near Jackson. He does a really nice job.
There were once four slots for food carts, but Wrappers Delight and Gia Via Sweets never really warmed to the program, partly I suspect because the carts were not allowed to cluster where people wanted them to be, forcing folks who wanted different foods to split up and eat in odd places hundreds of yards apart.
They did that because there is a faction of the downtown powers that be who still believe, against all evidence, that food carts steal business from restaurants. That’s why I was struck by the fact that the two main points they usually make were not included in the survey. Are you less likely to visit a restaurant because of a food cart? Do food carts cause clutter and mess in their vicinity? And I’m forced to wonder, is it that the anti-cart folks don’t care about the answers, or do they suspect they know the answers and won’t like them?
Food carts appeal to people who want to munch something as they wander around the Riverwalk, to moms out with a couple of kids who aren’t yet restaurant broken, and to guys with just a few minutes before they have to hurry back to work. They are simply a novelty that makes the atmosphere a little more festive. They don’t compete with stores with complete menus, tables, chairs, and washrooms.
If they want to see how food carts could actually benefit the downtown in the summertime, the powers that be should take a tranquilizer, let the carts go wherever their customers want, and let them cluster. But directing a survey at one guy, who has proven himself over the years, and who has a lot more patience with malicious nonsense than I would have, is simply wrong.
When did we start singling out individual businesses and asking the public via a non-scientific survey whether they are good for the town, bring in visitors, or increase the “ambiance” of our business district? What other business would we possibly treat that way?