Ottawa, CA: Seafood, Gourmet International Cuisine on the Menu As City Preps Food-Truck List

Chef Ben Baird, of Urban Pear restaurant in the Glebe, is getting a prime food truck spot at Queen and O’Connor. Photograph by: Jean Levac , Ottawa Citizen

By David Reevely | Ottawa Citizen

Chef Ben Baird, of Urban Pear restaurant in the Glebe, is getting a prime food truck spot at Queen and O’Connor. Photograph by: Jean Levac , Ottawa Citizen
Chef Ben Baird, of Urban Pear restaurant in the Glebe, is getting a prime food truck spot at Queen and O’Connor.
Photograph by: Jean Levac , Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — High-end restaurateurs, a seafood chef and experienced vendors targeting wider markets are among the operators of food trucks getting space on Ottawa’s roads this spring.

After a long effort to smother the city’s street-food scene, the city reversed course last year and invited applications for 20 spots on city streets for new food trucks. The results of a selection process that began last November are to be announced Friday.

The city got 61 applications for the spaces it’s opening this year and appointed a selection panel of chefs, hoteliers and a public-health official to assess them. Some councillors worried that the inclusion of a health expert would lead to the city approving nothing but lettuce-and-lentil dispensaries.

“I think that people in general are going to be surprised by the variety and the quality of what they’re going to see,” said Philip Powell, the city manager in charge of the project. On Thursday afternoon, his department was still finalizing the list, he said. The city got lots of qualified applicants but because spaces were offered to them in order of the scores they got from the city’s selection panel, some bailed out when they couldn’t get the places they wanted.

A couple of applicants scored 100 in the evaluation and their pick of locations, Powell said.

Ben Baird, the chef behind the Urban Pear restaurant in the Glebe, is getting a prime spot at Queen and O’Connor. Approached by the Citizen, he said he’s over the moon.

“My fiancée and me are going to be there every day,” Baird said. “She’ll be the one in the window taking the orders, and I’ll be slaving away at the stove.”

His truck won’t have a set menu, he said: although one of the selection criteria was what sort of food vendors intend to sell, Baird said the city approved his application to vary his offerings regularly, even daily.

“It’s going to be international street cuisine,” Baird said. “Tacos, burgers, shawarmas, samosas, whatever ingredients are in season and whatever we feel like making.” The truck’s food will be distinguished by using local produce and meat and preparations with more zing than the usual chip-truck fare, he promised. Main items will cost $10 to $12, he said, with soups and sides selling for about half that.

Baird has been tweeting his preparations — modifying a delivery van for food service, aiming to be ready for service in May. His plan, if he didn’t get a city licence, had been to set up on private property instead.

The city’s food-truck experiment is a major change from the attitude it had toward street food for years. The city put a moratorium on new licences to sell food from trucks parked on the street nearly 20 years ago, and since then the number of trucks has fallen from about 100 to just 32. Trucks have been allowed on private property but with so many restrictions to keep them away from brick-and-mortar food-sellers that setting up even there has been difficult.

But trucks, with their lower costs, are attractive to chefs who want to take some chances, and the impulse to experiment has found expression in other ways: the Hintonburger burger joint that started in little more than a shack on Wellington Street West, for instance, then moved into a former KFC and made way for Suzy Q’s gourmet doughnuts, plus the Taco Lot taco stand that opened next door. Some vendors make the rounds of farmers’ markets and festivals, and there’s the Stone Soup Foodworks truck that owner Jacqueline Jolliffe opened on the University of Ottawa campus.

Baird said he’d heard Jolliffe is getting a city location in Hintonburg; the Citizen couldn’t reach Jolliffe on Thursday to ask and Powell refused to say, though he acknowledged that some established vendors are moving off private property and into busier locations.

In the case of the seafood truck, Powell said, the selection panel was initially skeptical but was convinced by the setup the chef has planned.

“The trucks themselves are now full built-out kitchens,” he said. “Some of these folks are expecting to do catering and other stuff … They’re not just taking delivery vans and sticking in a couple of standard items. The design is all custom, with refrigerators and deep-fryers, and it’s all balanced and they can do just about anything.”

An elaborate setup can cost as much as $60,000, he said, though some vendors — especially the handful who are planning carts rather than trucks — will do most of their cooking in an indoor kitchen and just plate up (or box, or bag) on the street.

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