By Monica Eng
6:21 PM CST, January 31, 2013
More than six months after the Chicago City Council legalized cooking onboard food trucks, the city on Thursday issued its first mobile food preparer license it to Dan Salls, owner of The Salsa Truck.
An ecstatic Salls said that he passed his health and fire inspection on Wednesday and finished his paperwork on Thursday afternoon. By Tuesday, he hopes to be searing meat, grilling quesadillas and warming tortillas on board his truck to serve with his salsas to hungry Chicagoans.
Salls, a former financial adviser who quit his job to go into the salsa business, said he will likely serve his first hot meal at the 600 W. Chicago Ave. food-truck stand Tuesday. He has publicly invited Mayor Rahm Emanuel to be his first customer.
“I think it would be a great press opportunity for him to finally get the monkey off of everyone’s back,” Salls said of the long contentious process that has finally led to the first cooking license called an MFP (for mobile food preparer).
For more than two years, food truck activists were lobbying the city to allow onboard cooking, as opposed to restricting food offerings to those that had been pre-cooked and packaged. Proposals were stalled for more than a year at the committee level until Emanuel presented his own version of a modified ordinance last summer, which passed in late July.
“This is just the beginning, but we’re excited to see our first MFP (mobile food preparer) hit the streets,” said Rosemary Krimbel, who leads the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. “We want potential food truck owners to know that we are here to help, including newly offered truck consultations with the fire and health departments to ease the licensing process. We want to see more food trucks serving Chicago.”
Although Salls says he is thrilled to be the first licensed onboard cooking operator, he acknowledges that his truck is not the “classic West Coast type food truck.” By that he means, he did not need to outfit his truck to conform to what some feel is the city’s overly strict code on gas lines and exhaust hoods.
He will simply use an electric grill to heat his tacos, quesadillas and carnitas onboard, freeing him of the regulations on gas lines and hoods.
Next month, Salls hopes to open a brick and mortar restaurant called The Garage which can also serve as a commissary for servicing other cooking trucks.
Salls said that customers can expect freshly made tacos and quesadillas every day and chili, pozole with crispy pig ears and tortilla soup (the clear Mexico City style) during the winter. He said prices will run about $5 for two tacos and $7 for quesadillas with chips and salsa. Each week, he said, he will feature a different special protein. He said all of his dishes—which will include occasional tortas, carnitas and achiote shrimp—will all be paired to a salsa.
His salsas include a red salsa with house pickled jalapenos, a green salsa using smoked chipotle and a fire roasted pico de gallo.
In the summer time he plans to offer salads.
If it sounds like there won’t be a ton of cooking done on board, that’s because it's true. Still, Salls doesn’t rule out the possibility of adding more cooking features to his truck down the line.
“[Initially] We wanted to take the path of least resistance,” he said. “It was important to be licensed even if that meant we would start with a light version of a food truck.”
His advice to others who want get licensed: "Tone everything down. Don’t go overboard right away and do what you can get away with.”
Having quit his job for the food truck life, Salls was determined to get through the process even if it meant making some concessions.
“Part of the reason we’ve hung in there so long is because we have maintained that Chicago is the best city in the world,” he said, “and it’s all about give and take and compromise.”