No respite for vintage van
Loop North News

Wrigley Field 68 W Hubbard St - MAP

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) The Firecakes truck parked in front of Hotel Chicago at Marina City on Saturday. Marina City’s east tower in background at right. (Click on images to view larger versions.)

No respite for vintage van

• 1968 Citroen H now delivers donuts in Chicago
• “In the winter it’s a little finicky.”

9-Feb-15 – The lumberjacks of Wisconsin’s Northwoods in the late 19th and early 20th centuries did their backbreaking work with hand-held tools but at least there were firecakes. That’s what they called the donuts that were baked over an open fire.

One of those bakers was Billy Hobbs and his granddaughter now serves firecakes to a crowd just as hard working but from a shop on Hubbard Street in a trendy stretch of River North.

To get the firecakes farther, Karen Fox and her husband, Jonathan Fox, have enlisted a truck made in Paris in 1968, the Citroen H Van. 473,289 of the vans were produced from 1947 to 1981 and one of them immigrated to Los Angeles, where Jonathan saw it on a business trip.

Photo by Neil Burger “My wife and I had talked about a food truck and selling donuts on a mobile basis and so she was looking around and did some research,” says Jonathon (left). “She found a couple different styles of van but she really was enamored with this Citroen.”

The vans were built for various purposes. Some carried horses. This particular van delivered mail.

Photo by Neil Burger.

After driving it around in Los Angeles, Jonathan saw the truck was in good shape. He bought it and shipped it back to Chicago where it was refurbished. The engine was rebuilt, the exterior repainted, a sink was installed – to keep food preparation clean – along with shelves, a stereo system, and lighting. They cut a hole in the side and the truck was named Billy, after Karen’s great grandfather.

“We kept the integrity of the truck complete,” says Jonathan. The changes were “just to support the serving of donuts out of a simple truck and to port them around.”

The plan is to take the truck to different neighborhoods five days a week for now and then every day when it gets warmer. At 6 a.m., the truck’s schedule will be posted on social media.

The van has been parked in a ramp at Marina City (right) except when the weather been especially cold and then it is parked in a heated garage in the West Loop. Photo by Steven Dahlman

Jonathan and Karen started Firecakes in October 2012 in a 600 square foot space on West Hubbard Street that was previously a Caribou Coffee location. When it opened in February 2013, it quickly became a neighborhood favorite, its late-night hours compatible with nearby bars and restaurants. Most of the reviews on TripAdvisor declare Firecakes “excellent” or “very good.”

With flavors like Chocolate Hazelnut Long John, Ice Cream Donut Sandwich, Lemon Meringue, Malted Milk Ball, and Maple Glazed Pineapple & Bacon, Firecakes donuts are sold each day until they are sold out.

Jonathan is also owner and chef of Osteria La Madia on West Grand Avenue in River North. He was a founding partner of Maggiano’s Little Italy on North Clark Street. In 2006, he founded 3Sixty Dinning Intelligence, a restaurant managing and consulting service.

Photo by Steven Dahlman

(Above) Another view of the van, parked at Marina City.

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

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