John Handley, who owns and operates two food carts called FIB's, one on the Capitol Square and one on Library Mall, earned the top ranking in the 2014 city of Madison food cart review.
FIB's (for Fine Italian Beef and Sausage) beat out 49 other carts in the annual review, conducted on Library Mall and around the Capitol Square over 12 days between Sept. 22 through Oct. 4 by the city's food cart review panel.
The panel included 27 reviewers invited by Madison Street Vending coordinator Warren Hansen, who released the results Tuesday.
Vendors were judged on food, appearance and originality. The higher the score, the more likely the cart owner will be assigned to the site they apply for in the following vending year.
The FIB'S 1 cart, selling mostly Italian beef and Italian sausage sandwiches, Chicago hot dogs and meatball sandwiches, got a near perfect score and also earned points for seniority since it's been around seven years now.
Good Food, a 4-year-old cart serving wraps, salads and soups on the Square, near 33 E. Main St., came in second. El Burrito Loco, also on the Square, and in business for at least seven years, came in third.
Rounding out the top 10 were Curt's Gourmet Popcorn; Zen Sushi; Slide, which offers creative meat and vegetarian slider burgers; Caracas Empanadas, Teriyaki Samurai, Surco Peruvian Food and Fresh Cool Drinks.
The site assignments are permanent for the next vending year which runs April 15, 2015, through April 14, 2016, Hansen said.
There were 50 carts that were judged, and vendors received extra points for seniority and got docked points for health violations, he said.
Some carts will remain through the winter, particularly the ones on Library Mall which were displaced in recent months because on construction.
"More of them may stay around to sort of recoup their losses. It's almost over. It's almost over," Hansen said, noting that construction is supposed to be completed Oct. 31. "Fairly soon they are going to be able to return."
FIB's came in third last year, and first in 2012, according to Handley and Hansen.
Handley gives Chicago more credit than the quality of his sandwiches. He uses the popular restaurant the Old Fashioned as an analogy.
"It's close to what the Old Fashioned is doing, offering a taste of Wisconsin. If you are interested in Chicago cuisine, you are going to come to me."
Handley, 59, got into the food cart business after a career in advertising, knowing nothing about cooking. When people ask him what it's like running the food cart, he tells them, "it's like going camping twice a day and feeding all the campers."
The name FIB's was born out of the long-standing rivalry between Wisconsin and Illinois. When Handley moved his family here from Chicago in 1994 for an advertising job, his children were playing with some neighborhood kids and came back and said, "Dad, everybody's calling us a FIB. What's a FIB?"
"It was our first day in Wisconsin basically," he said, adding that he told them a fib was "a lie."
Handley and his wife, Rita, just bought a building just south of the Beltline near Fish Hatchery Road and spent seven months turning it into a commercial kitchen not unlike the FEED Kitchen on Madison's North Side.
They are going to be offering delivery service in a five-mile radius from that location, 607 Post Road, and also plan to rent space to other food carts and caterers. The kitchen offers ovens, broilers and flat tops, he said.
"My wife and I are getting older. Food carts are hard," Handley said.
The number to call for FIBS delivery is 334-1362.