Niagara-on-the-Lake, CAN: Food Truck Turnaround

Food truck turnaround File photo Hundreds flocked to Peller Estate Winery's Food Truck Eats event last May.

By Melinda Cheevers  |  Niagara This Week

Food truck turnaround File photo Hundreds flocked to Peller Estate Winery's Food Truck Eats event last May.
Food truck turnaround
File photo
Hundreds flocked to Peller Estate Winery’s Food Truck Eats event last May.

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE – What a difference six months can make.

At a public meeting held inside council chambers on Monday night, the public came together to show an outpouring of support for the gourmet food truck industry and its presence here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Residents, wineries, and even restaurants spoke one after another about the positive impact gourmet food trucks have on the area’s culinary scene.

It was a different scene from the last public meeting, held at the Community Centre in May, where there were divisive comments from restaurant owners and food truck supporters.

“Earlier this year, I was very negative,” admitted Olde Angel Inn owner Barry Williams on Monday, noting he was representing 55-60 retailers and business owners from the heritage district. “From our perspective, our main concern with food trucks was that they would be the advent of trucks in general.”

Williams admitted the group did hire legal representation and any input they had for the town in reference to staff’s report on food trucks has been presented. Their concern, he said, was not to say food trucks were bad business and not to ban them from town, but rather to protect their business interests.

“I do think there is room for food trucks, but hopefully there’s room for the Inn too, because I can’t move it,” he said, to laughter in the crowd.

Resident JoAnne Wang said there’s definitely room for both. While she frequently visits food trucks in the area, she said that she and her husband are also regulars at several local restaurants.

“Gourmet food trucks simply offer another dining alternative in the area,” she said, adding she’ll continue to spend her money at both. “They’re not competing for my dollar.”

Wang added that while food trucks add an interest and vibrancy to the area, she gets really excited when food trucks and restaurants work side by side.

That collaboration occurs each week at the SupperMarket, said John Hawley, the property owner in Garrison Village that plays host to the Saturday morning farmers’ market and Wednesday evening SupperMarket in the summer months. Local restaurants like The Garrison House and Ravine Vineyard serve up tasty fare alongside gourmet food trucks like El Gastronomo Vagabundo and The Yellow Pear, as well as pop-up food providers like Eh Jose Authentic Mexican Food and Lovin’ From the Oven. The evening event has become a popular community gathering place, Hawley said.

“We get the whole community coming out and now people are coming from outside of the community too; it’s becoming a community calling card,” he said, noting that when he travels he likes to go to “where the locals go” and this event is drawing similar types. “It’s becoming the place where the community gathers on Wednesday night.”

Garrison Village Residents Association president Doug Widdicombe said over the summer he receives hundreds of emails but so far only one has been negative toward the food market. It was a parking issue, he noted, and steps were taken to rectify the situation.

“(Garrison Village) residents love the markets,” he said.

Under the staff report, prepared by the community and development services department, the markets will be able to continue. The report suggested draft bylaw amendments that would see the 31 estate wineries in town be able to host one food truck for a 24-hour period on a weekly basis. In incidences when there would be more than one food truck present or one than more visit per week, the winery would be required to use one of its 24 allowed special events per year designated to them through their site plans. The bylaw would not allow for food trucks on public streets or in the heritage district.

Food trucks don’t want to do roadside service in Old Town anyway, said El Gastronomo Vagabundo operator Tamara Jensen, noting they are happy enough just operating at functions on private properties through town. That presence, she said, brings in more people to the area. A survey she conducted in the six months between meetings, saw most people in support of food trucks and noted that Niagara-on-the-Lake was second to Toronto on the list of where people travel to in order to visit food trucks.

Jensen said respondents also noted that while travelling to visit a food truck, they also visit local retailers, wineries, breweries, tourist attractions and restaurants.

“We do indeed provide a valuable service to the community,” she said. “Instead of fighting for a larger piece of the pie, we should all be working together to make Niagara the best culinary destination it can be.”

Working together, noted Jamie Slingerland of Pillitteri Estate Winery, is what led to the report being presented. Through meetings, consultations and input, he said, the two sides were able to reach the point they were at on Monday.

“We need to find a working solution; there’s a balance we need to strike,” he said. “We’re not 100 per cent there yet, but we’re close.”

The Niagara Stone Road winery has been a supporter of gourmet food trucks, featuring many throughout the summer. Slingerland said food trucks provide about 25 per cent of the winery’s food service, with local restaurants and caterers providing the other 75 per cent.

“We envision, not competition but a coordinated celebration of food and wine,” said Slingerland, noting he hopes there will be even more opportunities for food trucks in the future. “We need to minimize conflict and find opportunity.”

Nicole Ridsdale and Jason Sawatsky walk the fine line of operating both a food truck, The Yellow Pear, and a restaurant operation inside Southbrook Vineyard. Ridsdale said they’re putting money back into the community on a regular basis by featuring Niagara-on-the-Lake growers on their menu, which changes daily.

“We’re supporting the community,” she said, noting on market days, they’ll often buy up whatever growers have left over and make menu items to suit the stock.

Ridsdale said they currently have seven food services in town a week and questioned the 24-hour limitation put on wineries.

“We want to be able to go to a location for a weekend and tell people, The Yellow Pear is there all weekend,” she said, adding it also poses a problem for the various passport programs that pair food and wine tasting experiences for visitors over two-day periods.

The report was received by councillors and sent back to staff to consider the public’s comments. It’s expected to return to council in December or January.