UPDATE: March 27, 2017 4:55 p.m.. In an update to this story, today 4th Ward Alderperson Jodi Miller accompanied Carlos Luna, the owner of the UNIQUES food trailer, to meet with current Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz and Community Development Director, Alexander Mills for his planned meeting, scheduled for 2:00 this afternoon.
Jodi stated about an hour ago that she is happy to report, the city is going to work with Carlos so he can reopen his business. Miller said she went with Carlos as his 4th ward alderman to represent compromise.
We spoke with Carlos on the phone as well this afternoon, who told us that he is effectively shut down and will not be reopening back up at his current location. He said the city stated that his location doesn’t fall within the current guidelines that the city allows.
Carlos told us that the city of Freeport (Alexander Mills) will find a location that they approve of. Once they find a location(s), they will notify Carlos of where they are and Carlos will then have to work out a deal with whoever controls or owns that property.
Carlos said the city’s Community Development Director, Alexander Mills is supposed to get back with Carlos over the next few days.
When we asked how he was allowed to open in the first place, Carlos said it appears to have been just an oversight.
Carlos said he’s hopeful he can open again very soon, and says he does feel that the city of Freeport does want to work with him.
Freeport, Illinois — If you drive by Sullivan’s Grocery store on any given day or drive anywhere near the corner of Galena and Park Blvd by Walgreens or US Bank, you may have seen a small food trailer, sitting in the parking lot of the southwest corner gas station.
In January of this year I first brought you a peak of the little camper on the corner when I stopped by to see if the place was open, and what the place even was.
I was curious if the food trailer was part of the gas station and who exactly was behind this roughly 10 to 12 foot camper, with a sign at the top that said UNIQUES.
Finding the place closed and not getting my answer, I decided to snap a photo and ask all of you if you knew anything or had ever eaten here. One of the people to comment, was Carlos.
Carlos is the owner and the man who sits behind the sliding glass window eager to take your order, at this new food trailer on the corner of Park and Galena.
He’s eager, because fairly recently he lost a good paying union job.
After our first airing, the community really gathered behind Carlos and showed him a lot of support. Many people even drove down to give his menu a try and help him out.
On February 10th I stopped back down to see if his place was open. It was and I had a chance to meet Carlos.
Talking with him I discovered a regular guy who lost a union job, loves food, wasn’t sure what else to do so he decided to do this for income to support his family.
He had to do something afterall so this is what he chose to do.
“I’m trying to support my home, family and business” he said after our initial post aired.
“I’m a family man father of 6 just tryning to have my own business…yes I’m fully licensed and also have all certificates pertaining to serving and handling food …it’s a complete mobile kitchen up to all county codes.”
We again aired something at that time about his place in the parking lot and this time, the community really rallied behind him.
Carols told us that because of our exposure, he did more sales in one day than he’s ever done in an entire week. He even posted around a dozen or so photos of what the inside of his food trailer looks like, for the entire public to see.
We didn’t realize it at the time but on February 9th, the city of Freeport’s Community Development Director, Alexander Mills had written a letter to Mayor Jim Gitz.
In his letter he says the department has seen a steady increase of inquires into the regulation and use of food trailers on commercial properties, and that the department intends to draft an ordinance to more effectively regulate and permit the operation of such trailers in the city.
A screenshot of the first page of the letter is below:
We hadn’t had a chance to get back down and see Carlos in the past few weeks when all of a sudden we hear that on Thursday, March 23, 2017 at around 3:00 in the afternoon, Carlos tells us an officer pulled up and ordered him to shut his place down.
Apparently because of a city ordinance, now Carlos can no longer operate his food trailer in the parking lot of the privately owned gas station.
Now Carlos is out of work again and can’t earn income.
Carols told us his wife went to City Hall immediately after the officers left on Thursday, to see if she could speak with the Mayor of Freeport and find out what was going on.
After a bit of a wait, the Mayor did meet with her.
According to Carlos the Mayor told Carlos’s wife that more than likely they wouldn’t be reopening. Or at least, not at that location anyway.
According to his wife, apparently they were never supposed to be allowed to open in the first place, from what she was told.
Carlos did tell us that he had all his licenses and food licenses obtained to be able to operate his food trailer in that location. The location is on private property and owned as part of the gas station on the corner that the food trailer sits in.
Carlos said he has the permission of the owner to have his food trailer there.
He also told me as part of getting his license that last November he had applied for, and received his transient license. He said it recently came up for renewal again and he had forgot to renew it.
A Transient Vendor’s License is for the sale of goods at various shows and markets which even though Carlos already had received once, didn’t really apply to him as his operation wasn’t mobile. His place sat in one location. He told me the cost for the license was $25.00, so it wasn’t a big expense.
Now, he’s not sure what to do hearing that he should have never been allowed to open in the first place. So in the meantime UNIQUES is shut down and at a time when Carlos said things were just looking up for him.
“I’ve met not only good customers here, I’ve met friends” he told me on the phone when I spoke with him.
“My family and I started going to Ignite Church in Freeport and I’ve found more than just customers here. I’ve come to know people as genuine friends outside of my business.” He added, “all because they’ve come in for a bite to eat and show their support of me”.
Carlos told me he’s not sure what he will do now. He is scheduled to meet with Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz on Monday at 2:00 p.m. to offer his input on the city ordinance, he said.
“I’m not really sure what that means or why he wants my input but I really don’t think we’re going to be back open” he said. “I think the food trailer is going to get shut down for good and I just don’t know what we’ll do from here.”
Carlos told me that without the income the food trailer provided for him, he said he his family may have to move out of the city of Freeport to somewhere that will allow him to operate his business.
“We might be forced to leave Freeport and I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”
“I live here now, my family is here, this is our city and I’ve finally started to see things look up.”
It concludes by saying, “thank you and very sorry”.
While yes I understand the need for ordinances, it’s a sad day when we see an ordinance stop a hard working man from doing something to better his family and provide for himself.
Especially one that’s already been open, licensed and serving a supportive public.
I’d hate to think that the positive light I shined on a man with a family in this city caused someone to complain to the city of Freeport.
But, that very well could have been the case here.
Carlos could be like one of so many others in the city. He could be sucking off the system and trying to find the easy way out. Instead, he’s working, trying and building something and for that we, like many others, support him.
His place is clean, the reviews of the food have been fantastic, Carlos truly is a nice guy and this is what America is all about anyway. It should especially be what Freeport is about.
As a city we pay community development leaders hundreds of thousands of dollars to, in a sense, give people opportunities here. Now, we might be forcing one family out. A family who we previously gave license and approval to do exactly what they were doing. UNIQUES was already open to the public, licensed and serving great food.
So while I hope Monday’s meeting with the Mayor err’s on the side of the little guy, I also would hope that all of you as a community will come together and show your support of Carlos being allowed to remain open.
Let’s be a city that supports people who try. Let’s be a city that gives people the chance to better themselves because that’s all Carlos is trying to do. Better himself from a loss.
Let’s not be the city who forces a family out of town because of a regulation. Show your support of Carlos and his family.
It’s either UNIQUES is allowed to stay open until Carlos can save up enough for something better, which is his goal, or he’s shut down only to be left without income and facing a decision to find yet another opportunity, or having to leave the city of Freeport altogether.