Toronto food truck owners are having a tough time finding places to sling their street food, thanks to the restrictions that came with the city’s contentious new food vending permits.
“It’s really, really tough right now. We’ve been opposed by restaurants, we’ve been opposed by hot dog vendors, we’ve been opposed by a lot of people on the streets,” said Randy Kangal, owner of Randy’s Roti, a Caribbean food truck. “But we believe in putting it out there because we believe in food diversity.”
Kangal was one of a handful of food truck owners who lined up at City Hall before dawnon May 15 to buy one of the much-anticipated new permits for $5,067. The permits allow food trucks to park on the street and sell food, instead of only operating on private property. There were only 125 up for grabs, including 27 which pre-dated themuch-debated new bylaws, so Kangal and others lined up before 5 a.m. to avoid disappointment.
To date, however, only nine new permits have been sold.
Many veteran food truck owners opted not to buy them, saying the new rules are too restrictive and the $5,000 fee won’t be worth the expense. Some of those concerns appear to be coming to fruition.
Under the new rules, food trucks are prohibited from setting up shop less than 50 metres from any open and operating restaurant, meaning much of the downtown core is a no-go zone for Randy’s Roti and other food trucks.
“Where we are is not at the flow of traffic, not where we want to be,” said Kangal, who tries to do curbside service on University Avenue when he’s not booked to sell on private property. “Sometimes I get a spot, sometimes I don’t and I have to drive around. It’s really restricted where I can be.”
The rules also restrict the amount of time a truck can vend for each day to three hours, and limit the number of trucks per city block to two.
Some food truck owners are getting creative to make the most of their permits. Bryan Siu-Chong and Allen Tan just launched Me.n.u their Asian fusion street food truck with a pop-up party near University Avenue and Queen Street. They’re planning to do similar events – complete with music and street food – soon.
“All around Toronto, we’ll just pop up and have little street parties,” Siu-Chong said. The business partners will rely on their social media presence to let people know where they’ll be appearing.
The duo are also planning on focusing on a different clientele – instead of fighting for space during the lunch rush, they’re going to set up shop on the streets after dark and sell to hungry partiers heading home from the bar. The 50-metre rule will be less restrictive at night, Siu-Chong explained, because bricks and mortar restaurants will be closed.
The bylaws may be restrictive, but there are still curbside vending opportunities in Toronto, Siu-Chong said. He and Tan decided to pay for the permit because their business is new and hasn’t built up a clientele, like some of the veteran food trucks have.
“We’re not fully booked like some of the other trucks are,” Siu-Chong said. “It doesn’t make sense for them to spend $5,000 on a permit they’re not going to use. We’ll use it.”
Kangal isn’t sure yet whether his permit was worth the money.
“We don’t know. It’s still brand new,” he said. “Maybe if we were given a few more opportunities it would be worth the $5,000. But it’s tough. We invest all this money, we put our trucks out there, our time, insurance. It’s a lot we put out there. But it’s tough for us to make it work out there.”
Now Kangal and other food truck owners are hoping the city will revisit the bylaws.
“I hope the city, on the next food truck bill, gives us a bit more leniency in where we can operate,” he said.
The new permits have been a bit of a test for the city, Siu-Chong said.
“They kind of need time to see how it’s going for food trucks in order to make adjustments,” he said. “I think for both sides it’s a learning process.”