London, CAN: Downtown London Food Truck Pilot Project Facing Criticism

Lineup at a mobile eatery in Calgary. credit : Katie Turner/Metro

By John Matisz |

Lineup at a mobile eatery in Calgary. credit : Katie Turner/Metro
Lineup at a mobile eatery in Calgary.
credit : Katie Turner/Metro

A proposed pilot project which would allow food trucks to operate in downtown London is expected to be a hot agenda item when councillors meet for Tuesday’s city council meeting.

Councillors are expected to vote on the pilot’s conditions. They will also choose an appropriate site to hold a public participation meeting to further discusses the issue.

Although the process is still in its preliminary stages, the possibility of permitting food trucks is cooking up considerable debate within the community.

“Council has to be careful not to make it so easy for entrepreneurs to get into the food-truck business, so that they don’t wipe out the bricks-and-mortar businesses,” Palasad restaurants owner Rob Szabo said.

Szabo is concerned food trucks might “cherry pick customer traffic” from nearby restaurants. Additionally, he believes the garbage produced by a mobile restaurant may cause a dirtier city, since trucks sometimes don’t have food-disposal infrastructure in place.

Orest Katolyk, City of London bylaw enforcement manager, insists the report to be presented on Tuesday will recommend food trucks be subjected to standardized health and safety inspections. If approved, they will also be forced to adhere by distance restrictions — a buffer zone separating them from existing restaurants.

Both Szabo and Felipe Comes, the co-owner of Aroma restaurant, would like to see food trucks pay property taxes, too.

“I pay X number of dollars for operating a restaurant, and I want the city to charge the same (to food trucks),” Comes said, with Szabo adding, “Business owners who occupy a bricks-and-mortar-type store end up paying property taxes one way or the other. At the end of the day, that becomes the real core issue.”

Coun. Joni Baechler (Ward 5) says she is open to the food-truck concept as a whole, but would prefer if potential operators offered “innovation ideas around cuisine” as opposed to traditional street meat such as hot dogs and sausages.

When asked about the city having the authority to decline food trucks based on their menu, Katolyk noted, “At this point, I don’t believe we can (regulate) what type of food they serve.”

Overall, Katolyk adds, city staff feels they have done its due diligence and will be able to mimic the best practices in other Canadian cities with a strong food-truck presence.