By Abbey Sharp | EatSt Food Network
It’s been a long tiresome battle for Toronto food trucks this Spring who have been fighting for legislation that would hopefully make street food more accessible. Alas, after a heated two-day debate at City Hall, and a food truck rally where all the electoral candidates could get their fill, councilors voted 34-3 in favour of new regulations for street food.
I spoke with a number of local food trucks about their initial thoughts on the changes and the overall sentiment was disappointment. “It’s extremely frustrating and I feel sorry for my fellow food truckers who have invested their life savings in the hopes of change. We’re still miles away from where we should be,” said Gourmet B1tches owner, Shontelle Pinch. Jim of Godina of Dobro Jesti pointed out the obvious- that the new rules may be pushing Toronto far behind other major cities on the food truck scene. “It will be different in each city, but cities need to watch other cities and what they’re doing. If they keep food trucks out, they will be behind the rest of North America. And people want us.,” Jim told me. “We can go anywhere, and we do. Niagara, Hamilton, Kitchener, Burlington, Mississauga, Toronto , Whitby and everywhere in between. If a city doesn’t want us, I feel sorry for all of our fans as they will have to leave their hometown to enjoy food trucks.” Some were hopeful of progress, like Tom Antonarakis from Buster’s Sea Cove, who told me, “I’m disappointed about the new changes, but at least we have changes to talk about.” Cynthia Pacheco of Curbside Bliss concurred, “Although they may be baby steps they are steps in the right direction….Moving forward we will push for longer vending times and less restrictions. Our biggest supporters, our sweet customers, are what keeps us at City Hall pushing for change.” I particularly liked the approach Fidel Gastro owner, Matt Basile took, who stated that “no matter how the laws change, for better or worse, the Fidel Gastros brand will always look for new ways to utilize street food and the truck in creative ways…the role of legislation shouldn’t be to make your business successful.”
To summarize what these truck owners are talking about, here is a quick overview of the new rules for street eats in Toronto set to go in effect May 15th :
- Food Trucks must pay a $5,000 permit to operate their truck on Toronto streets. Currently, that is the most expensive annual permit to date. In Austin, Texas, for instance, the fee is $600, an approximate standard across North America. There is immense concern that this would prohibit most, if not, all, food trucks from even participating- at least those with premium products who have small margins to play with in the first place.
- Food trucks, like cars, can park in pay-and-display spots on the streets and in public parking lots (assuming they’ve paid the fee, abide by the traffic rules and don’t exceed the 3 hour parking window.) Private lots (with permission) are also fair game and are not subject to restrictions on proximity to spaces (see point 3).
- Food trucks must park farther than 50 metres from the door of a brick and mortar restaurant (assuming it’s open). When you look at the map of the city (Image from The Star), this could significantly limit the allowable spaces for food trucks to operate. Factor in the additional limitations of staying 30 metres from a school and 25 metres from a sidewalk vendor, and it might be slim pickings for trucks. In response to the fear of rationale that food trucks may hinder restaurants’ business, Jim of Dobro Jesti replied, “Restaurants should be confident that they have food that will bring people to their restaurants. Food trucks should not worry them. If they are worried they need to step it up.”
- If trucks do manage to find streets and neighbourhoods without too many restaurants, there can be no more than two trucks per city block
- Permits given to trucks will be limited to 125 permits over the next 12 months (there’s currently 27 already claimed) and will be limited to one per person. What will happen to trucks that have two or more trucks?
- Trucks are unable to operate within BIA zones during special events. BIAs are also allowed to request the creation of “restricted” zones where trucks are just not allowed.
- Currently there is a downtown moratorium on sidewalk vendors like hot dog, sausage, and burger stands, which is not being changed.
- While ice cream vendors were previously limited to only 10 minutes per spot, but they too now can benefit from the new rules.
So what do you think Toronto food truck fans- is this a victory? Or has no real progress been made? Comment below with your predictions!