News & Features

Food Truck Pioneer Matt Maroni Parks Gaztro-Wagon for Good

January 04 2012 - 12:13 PM

Matt maroni wagonThough nowhere near as ubiquitous as their counterparts in Los Angeles or New York City, Chicago's food trucks slowly gained steam in 2011: They had their own Wednesday afternoon meet-up at North and Clybourn, plus added attention from Time Out writer Heather Shouse's book, Food Trucks: Dispatches and Recipes from the Best Kitchens on Wheels. As food truck owners became more united around the common cause to legalize on-board cooking (which is currently prohibited in Chicago), their unquestionable leader was Gaztro-Wagon's Matt Maroni. Now, the pioneer tells Eater that he'll no longer operate the Gaztro-Wagon truck and its Edgewater storefront (another owner will take over operations) plus he'll scale back his duties as former executive chef at Morso. What does this mean for the future of the city's favorite mobile kitchens?  

Maroni's reasons for closing up shop point to some major difficulties in the food truck business. First, he cites the financial pressures of operating a brick-and-mortar kitchen, which is required under Chicago law to cook the food served on board the truck, as well as operating costs for the vehicle. Second, cold winter months don't encourage the sort of food and street traffic that helps boost food trucks sales in other climates. Third, he seemed tired and over-extended in his role at Morso, where he says the cooking combined with day-to-day operations became too much.

While he figures out his next move, which Maroni says will still be in the food realm, he's going to stay on as a "consultant" at Morso, and has handed the reins of Gaztro-Wagon to someone else. But while he's certainly not disappearing, Maroni's departure from the food truck world is a telling blow. For a man so passionately commited to the potential for food trucks in Chicago to throw in the towel signals a fundamental problem. Clearly, there are excellent chefs in the city who have put a lot of effort into these trucks (Phillip Foss's Meatyballs, Maroni's Gaztro-wagon), and if the lines at the Wednesday food truck meet-ups are any indication, there is enough consumer demand during warm months. The problem then seems to be with Chicago's rigid regulations that prohibit on-board cooking, considerably driving up the cost of operating a truck. Until those laws change, even all the passion in the world may not be enough to keep food trucks' wheels rolling.