Edmonton, CAN: Edmonton’s Food Trucks Feed Urban Landscape with Spontaneous Delight

Two food trucks set up Monday at 107th Street and 100th Avenue in Edmonton.

By Paula Simons  |  Edmonton Journal

Two food trucks set up Monday at 107th Street and 100th Avenue in Edmonton.
Two food trucks set up Monday at 107th Street and 100th Avenue in Edmonton.

EDMONTON – Pity your friends and relatives in Toronto — at least the ones who’d like to grab a quick bite of lunch in the middle of a busy day.

Toronto the Good has some of the most strict and antiquated rules in urban Canada when it comes to licensing food trucks. Right now, food trucks are forbidden on Toronto city streets. They can only operate on private property or at special events. As a result, there are only about two dozen food trucks in the greater Toronto area.

Late last week, Canada’s biggest city approved a contentious pilot project that will allow food trucks to operate in five city parks for August and September.

But they still won’t be allowed on city streets.

So think of hungry Torontonians with smug sympathy, as you head out to Edmonton’s streets this summer.

Gourmet sandwiches. Belgian waffles. Filipino beef skewers. Organic chili. Pad Thai. Greek lemon potatoes. Bannock burgers. Calzones. Southern barbecue ribs. Spring rolls. Mini doughnuts. Kettle corn. Butter chicken. Poutine. Butter chicken poutine.

Never before have Edmontonians had such choices for al fresco noshing — an option for every price point and palate. Nor are the trucks limited to downtown locations such as Churchill Square or 107th Street. You’ll find them in suburbs and industrial parks, at farmers’ markets and community league block parties.

And if you need help finding a specific truck, Toby Vander Steen, a Vancouver app developer, and expatriate St. Albertan, recently launched an Edmonton version of his popular mapping application, streetfoodapp.com, which locates participating Edmonton food trucks. Since Edmonton’s free app went live this May, he says, it’s had more than 10,000 downloads.

Small wonder. Last year, the city licensed 22 vendors to operate food trucks on city streets. This year, says Kathy Stanley, Edmonton’s street vendor co-ordinator, there are 36 licensed food trucks on city streets — she just approved a new one this Monday — and that doesn’t count the caterers and restaurants who set up mobile kitchens at events like the folk festival or the Fringe.

Nor does it include hotdog stands or ice cream trucks, which are counted separately.

“There are so many new trucks this year,” says Sharon Yeo, an Edmonton food blogger and co-founder of the What the Truck pop-up dining events .

The city estimates that the most recent What the Truck event, which took place in the Boyle Street Plaza last week, drew 1,000 people.

“Food trucks offer a unique take on food, something different than you would find in many restaurants,” Yeo says. “They offer higher quality at a lower price, which means people are more willing to experiment and try new dishes.”

Yeo thinks the trend appeals to Edmontonians eager to enjoy every possible outdoor moment of our short summer. But she also believes that their very mobility helps them to inject a little fun and surprise into the urban landscape.

“They can be anywhere and you can transform any outdoor space into a party space.”

For Edmonton food truck operators — and those who love to eat — the news is about to get even better.

This week, the city will announce new, and primarily more liberal, operating policies for urban food vendors. Right now, food trucks are only able to operate from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Under the new guidelines, trucks on city streets will be able to operate virtually around the clock, from 5 a.m.to 3 a.m., to catch both the early-morning breakfast market, and the late-night crowd who are leaving bars on Whyte and Jasper Avenue.

The city is also introducing a new application system that it hopes will be simpler for prospective vendors, and a new appeal process for cases where disputes arise between vendors and neighbouring restaurants.

However, the new guidelines will also mean that food vendors cannot set up within 400 metres of a primary or secondary school without a specific invitation from the school itself. (The city says ice cream trucks outside of schools were creating a safety hazard.) And the rules will now specify that no food truck can park within 20 metres of an existing restaurant.

Will those rules appease those aggrieved conventional restaurant owners, who see food trucks as unfair competition? Probably not. But then, with more restaurants operating complementary food trucks of their own, there seems to be plenty of appetite in this summer-hungry city for the joy, variety and street life that food trucks offer. Let’s savour not only the food they serve, but the spontaneous delight they add to our local urban experience.