This article, originally published in Spanish by La Raza, is available in English thanks to the “Translating Chicago News” project by the Institute for Nonprofit News (INN).
By Belhú Sanabria
Fearing arrest by police, Chicago street vendors prepare food in a shared kitchen that operates in rented premises that they now want to purchase.
The Chicago Traveling Vendors Association (CTVA) seeks to purchase the building from where they currently operate and where the Cooperative Workers Shared Kitchen uses to prepare food. There they prepare the Mexican food and snacks that they sell in different parts of Chicago.
The vendors association opened the city-certified shared kitchen in 2016, which operates in North Lawndale, one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.
To comply with the law and meet all the city’s health requirements by legalizing the street sale of food in 2015, these entrepreneurs rented the place to operate their commercial kitchen.
The ordinance regulating the sale of prepared food in traveling carts entered into force on Nov. 13, 2015.
This law states that the street vendor must not prepare the food in the cart or cut or season it there. They have to cook and package their products —before their carts are taken to the streets— in licensed commercial kitchens approved by the Chicago Department of Public Health, among other requirements.
Chicago has an estimated 1,500 street vendors, mostly Mexican immigrants, who sell elotes (corn on the cob Mexican style), fruit salad, tamales, and refreshments, among other foods and snacks.
Fernando Huerta, the group’s kitchen administrator and board member of the Chicago Traveling Vendors Association, believes that the number of street vendors could have increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people who have lost their jobs have now started selling food on the streets, he said.
Ana Galindo has been selling elotes, tamales, cut fruit, and chicharrones (pork rinds Mexican style) in the Back of The Yards neighborhood for 12 years. She uses the shared kitchen six days a week to prepare the products that she sells in her traveling cart in the neighborhood located in the southwest side of Chicago.
“Among the requirements that the city asks to be able to grant permits to street vendors is to have or rent a shared kitchen or own a restaurant. Unfortunately, I don’t count on that money,” Galindo told La Raza.
She said that when she was looking for a commercial kitchen in other neighborhoods, she was charged between $1,500 and $2,000 a month.
“Here in the cooperative’s shared kitchen, we don’t get to pay $1,000 a month. This kitchen is more affordable,” said Galindo, who is also a member of the CTVA.
The shared kitchen is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “The kitchen is rented not only to street vendors but also to anyone who wants to rent the space,” Huerta said.
“It hasn’t been easy for us to get the licenses out because there are many requirements that weren’t within the law when it happened; they’ve been modified, they’ve been changing. So it’s a constant struggle for us. The organization and some lawyers have been helping us,” Huerta said.
The Chicago Traveling Vendors Association has a membership of 150 street vendors, and 36 of them decided to form the kitchen, formally registered on March 13, 2020.
Seeking support for the purchase
To achieve their goal of buying the building where CTVA operates, these street vendors have launched a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe. So far, they have only raised $355. However, they hope to raise $40,000 for the building’s down payment, which has a total cost of $150,000.
The Chicago Traveling Vendors Association earned a $114,625 grant from the Chicago Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) in the past administration to repair and remodel the building. But Huerta says they still can’t access that money because they have to own the property.
Thanks to a $120,000 grant from the Chicago Region Food System Fund, these street vendors prepared and distributed for two months more than 50,000 tamales and 20,000 taco throughout Chicago’s most impoverished communities affected by the pandemic. They said they’re still looking for resources to keep giving food to the city’s low-income communities.
These entrepreneurs ask the Chicago community for a hand to purchase the building where their shared kitchen operates, so they can also continue to provide food to under-resourced communities and bring an income to their families.
These merchants aim to turn the place into an economic center that employs Chicago’s Latino and African-American neighborhoods.
“We will seek to generate jobs, improve the neighborhood, and get more business. We want to make tamales in production and sell them and have workers of all races. That’s what we need space for,” Huerta said.
How you can help
To support this cause, visit www.gofundme.com/f/street-vendors-association-of-chicago-coop-kitchen
Translated by Marcela Cartagena