By Jessica Barrett | VancouverSun.com
The City of Vancouver is looking at expanding its food cart program with the adoption of “Portland-style” pods that would allow a permanent cluster of carts to form outside the downtown core.
Two years into a four-year pilot program, Vancouver’s downtown is reaching capacity for food carts, said Coun. Heather Deal, noting there are 103 permits issued for permanent carts.
With 12 new operators to be added to the program each year for the next two years, the city is looking to Portland for inspiration. That city’s food cart clusters are scattered in parking lots throughout the city, functioning as a draw for locals and tourists alike.
“It’s always been the goal of the program to get some of the carts outside of the downtown core,” said Deal, adding city staff are looking at how best to provide a critical mass of carts to draw customers into other areas.
“They need body heat — they need a crowd to keep their businesses working,” said Deal.
Food cart fairs held by Dine Out Vancouver or the defunct Waldorf Productions have shown there is a demand for street food across the city, Deal said, as have hubs that spring up at farmers market locations.
“The market has already identified the possibility for this. We’re looking at whether the next 10 or 15 licences we give out can be directed to that kind of a pod,” she said.
Le Tigre food truck operator Clement Chan, one of the few who has dared to make a go of operating outside the downtown core, said the success of food pods will come down to location.
In the highly competitive street food market, even a few metres can mean the difference between success and failure.
“You’d be surprised how much three metres will affect you,” he said from his mobile truck, which on Tuesday was serving lunch on Cambie Street and Eighth Avenue.
Initially issued a permanent spot in front of the Shangri-La hotel on Alberni and Thurlow, Chan said he decided to apply for one of the city’s 20 mobile permits after he was forced to move his cart one block away because he was too close to the hotel’s restaurant. The move cut his income from $1,000 a day to a third of that, he said. He now holds both types of permit, and spends his week cycling through spots on South Granville, Cambie Street and Yaletown, with one day a week at his downtown spot. Chan is averaging 40 to 60 customers a day.
While the going has been tough, Chan said he’s built a following from people in other areas of the city and has been able to take advantage of special events. Still, Chan said Portland-style pods would likely bolster Vancouver’s relatively new street food scene and create a more secure environment for new operators.
Michael Kaisaris of Re-Up BBQ, which has one permanent location downtown and another in New Westminster, said he’d also like to see permanent clusters akin to what is found in Portland.
“There’s something about all the carts being in the same place that makes six times the people come out,” he said.
Kaisaris added he had some success with his formerly mobile operation serving the Billy Bishop Legion in Kitsilano and at special events along Main Street, but those didn’t pay the bills.
“I don’t think we ever paid rent from the mobile stuff. I feel like having a stable place to go with a pod of people helps you develop your own business in a different way,” he said.