How to Launch a Food Business in Chicago

Chicago is for foodies!

However, launching a food business in Chicago isn't for the faint of heart. Navigating the food and beverage laws governing a food business in Chicago is daunting, let alone the risk of failure - the retail food industry is known for low margins and demanding (=>punishing, fickle) customers. But the love Chicagoans have for their favorite foods can be worth the struggle. Despite throat-chopping wind chill and sub-zero temperatures, people will wait 2 hours outside to get a taste of the latest flavors (I'm looking at you, Hot Doug's) Chicago's chefs have to offer. So if you're ready to take the plunge, here are some resources for starting a food an beverage business in Chicago.

The Hatchery is a food and beverage incubator. This option is ideal for businesses looking for guidance in the launch and growth processes. Similarly, the Good Food Accelerator is a fellowship program for food and farm entrepreneurs powered by 1871.

Chicago likes to work hard, play hard, and food trucks keep us fueled during the work day and as we imbibe and experience Chicago on the weekends. Thanks to commercial food kitchens, food trucks and other small businesses (bakeries, coffee shops, doggy dessert enthusiasts) have been able to launch a food truck with minimal startup cost and without a retail storefront. Commercial food kitchens have a specific license from the city to operate as such, and the businesses that operate out of those kitchens can do so without the need to worry about traditional licensing and inspection processes. Typically commercial kitchens charge for use by the hour and house the production equipment, with frozen storage and other add-ons. Lakeview Kitchen is a family-run operation with a storefront that showcases tasty treats from its members. Kitchen Chicago operates out of River West and has a variety of successful graduates including Farmer's Fridge. Logan Square Kitchen has been involved in the food regulation scene for years, and provides a commercial kitchen as well as classes like food safety. My Kitchens and ETA's operate commercial kitchens in the Chicago suburbs.

We love supporting small businesses and therefore we have created a database of every food truck in Chicago, including their menus, typical schedules and locations, and of course pics of what to eat and drink!

Chicago Food Trucks, built with Airtable

It's hard to keep up with all the awesome food trucks out there. If we've missed one feel free to add it below!

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