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Mobile Media: Chicago’s Gaztro-Wagon

March 11, 2011

In Chicago, a new food obsession is both fueling and driving social media junkies. With Twitter and Facebook as their voices these culinary rebels are speaking straight to their customers while their services are sliding through the legislative cracks. Some neighborhood eateries and chain restaurants are fighting them tooth and nail while others welcome the new players in downtown dining.

These four wheeled social media strategists present a new vision of the famously blue-collar food trucks. A key player in this street war is Matt Maroni, owner and operator of the Gaztro-Wagon and Chicagofoodtrucks.com. In 2010, Maroni began working to overturn a long-standing Chicago ordinance prohibiting food trucks from preparing meals street-side. While current laws allow these mobile vendors to distribute pre-packaged food, Maroni is determined to provide complete culinary preparation on location thus creating a street-food experience found in cultural capitals around the world.

Today, he’s not only present on the streets, but he’s using social media to drive sales, and catering to the growing audience of tech-savvy, corporate youngsters.

orange: How do you respond to restaurants that say you have an unfair advantage with your mobile location?

Well, I pretty much just say, step up your game. [Through this new ordinance], you have to be a certain amount away from another restaurant, (200 feet to be exact) and granted, they’re going to say it’s an unfair competition because they pay higher rents and they pay real estate taxes, but most of the restaurants here in Chicago are leasing space. They might have it in their lease agreements that their landlords won’t sign other tenants to do similar things, well it’s a capitalist society. My little food truck operation is not going to put a dent in one of the restaurateurs that’s coming out against me, say Keefer’s Steak House. What I do in a day, he could do in a two-top. (Keefer’s Steak House is one of the multiple downtown Chicago

restaurants that argues that food trucks have an unfair advantage citing the mobile nature of food trucks, the lack of real estate taxes on their business and their lack of community support.) If they’re selling wine and they’re selling big steaks and things of that nature, I’m not putting a dent in his sales. They say it’s unfair competition; well again, competition is competition at the end of the day. A great example I use for them is, the City of Chicago didn’t regulate iTunes when they came out to save Virgin Records or Tower Records, so why are they going to protect restaurants versus a little food truck that might do two or three thousand dollars a day in business when they’re doing $25,000 to $30,000 a night in business. So it really doesn’t make sense to me.

[Check back for more of our interview with Matt Maroni]

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