Ottawa, CAN: Food Truck Growing Pains — Good News and Bad News

By  Joanne Chianello  |  Ottawa Citizen


Much excitement this week over the launch of the 18 new street food licensees here in Ottawa last Wednesday. Great news! Only problem was that only a few of those 18 actually made it out on the street. Bad news.

But the good thing is that the bad news is only temporary. At least that’s what we’ve been told.

Every new program has some growing pains, and the city’s food truck scheme is no exception. In fact, getting food trucks onto Ottawa’s city streets by May 15 was always going to be a challenge considering the list of successful candidates for licences was only officially announced March 15. No one is going to pour thousands of capital into a truck or cart before they know if they have they have the go-ahead. Three months isn’t a lot of time to order up a customer-made vehicle, let alone get all the requisite approvals needed.

For example, BOBites — run by the folks from Bowich (Best Organic Sandwich) — was waiting on a seal of approval from the Technical Safety Standards Association (a provincial thing).

Ottawa Streat Gourmet, which is headed by the owner of Urban Pear, is having issues with parking his truck. There was some idea that the problem had to do with a sign not being up on time allowing him to bring his food truck to Queen Street, just west of O’Connor, but the reality is more complicated than that (as usual).

According to Philip Powell, the city’s program manager for licensing permits and markets (and a champion of this street food project), the problem with Streat Gourmet is the length of the truck. According to the city’s business licensing bylaw, a refreshment truck can be a maximum of 10 metres (or 30 feet) long.

Now, the Streat Gourmet truck is 27 feet long, so no problem, right? Technically no, but in reality, small snag. Seems the food trucks of old — and remember, the city hasn’t issued a new street food licence in more than 20 years — used to fit in a single parking space. The latest ones, not so much. While the Streat Gourmet truck does meet the business licence requirements, the city hadn’t expected it to take up more than one parking space.

So city officials are running around getting permission to use up two spaces instead of one (street food shoppers may not think it’s a big deal, but local businesses aren’t too keen on losing what few on-street parking spots they have). Staff is also trying to get signs made that will allow Streat Gourmet to use the space when it needs it, but that allows the slots to return to parking spots when Streat Gourmet is elsewhere — say on the weekends or during the winter.

This is all supposed to be cleared up before next Wednesday when Streat Gourmet is planning to be back in its slot.

So there are dozens of these little fires to put out. As far as we can tell, they’re haven’t been any major organizational disasters, but each new food vendor has his or her unique problems. And, as you can see from Streat Gourmet’s example, they’re a bit convoluted.

At the Citizen, we’re hoping to blanket the streets again next month for an update on how the street food program is doing. If there are still technical issues keeping vendors off the street, then someone will have some explaining to do.