Vancouver: Grilled Cheese, Korean Fusion Among Street Treats

Jay Cho's Coma Food sells Korean food from a food cart. He received a mobile permit for the business, but not a permanent spot downtown. Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG, Vancouver Sun

By Tracy Sherlock | Vancouver Sun


Jay Cho's Coma Food sells Korean food from a food cart. He received a mobile permit for the business, but not a permanent spot downtown. Photograph by: Wayne Leidenfrost, PNG, Vancouver Sun

Mayor says 19 new mobile vendors will play a vital role in keeping downtown vibrant

The City of Vancouver approved 19 new food cart vendors for downtown locations Monday, with menus ranging from grilled cheese sandwiches to Korean fusion to seafood chowder.

“If you like good food, you’ve come to the right place,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson. “This is affordable street food and it reflects Vancouver’s cultural diversity -and it creates some truly new opportunities for local entrepreneurs.”

Robertson said the food will be “delicious and affordable,” and would “play a vital role in keeping our streets vibrant.” He said Vancouver would join the likes of Bangkok and New York City in its diversity of street food.

The successful applicants were chosen from a short list of 52 by a panel including chefs Vikram Vij and Karen Barnaby, Ian Tosteston, CEO of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, Charles Gauthier, executive director of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, nutritionists, farmers’ market and fair trade representatives and two youth members.

Some downtown businesses want greater distance between their businesses and street vendors, and some restaurants are concerned they will be hurt by the competition for customers, Gauthier told The Sun.

“A restaurant on Granville Street has expressed concerns over a food cart selling a similar product,” Gauthier said. “They’re competing for the same food dollar that the consumer has to spend.”

Over the next few years, the streets of Vancouver could see nearly 100 food carts, including 17 that are already established, up to 20 in this year and in the next two years, and up to 20 mobile carts that move around the city.

The increasing numbers of street vendors and concerns from the downtown BIA prompted the city to review its guidelines for street vendors this year.

“The program has been pretty static for a long time, but now that we’re seeing growth we need to review the foundation of the program,” said Sadhu Johnston, deputy city manager. Fees, operating hours and distance from existing businesses will all be reviewed, said Johnston.

Gauthier said the BIA would like to see the food carts paying a higher fee to level the playing field between the carts and restaurants. Food carts with downtown locations pay about $1,000 for a permit, and some also pay full price for the parking spaces they occupy. Mobile vendors pay about $300 for an annual fee.

Despite their members’ concerns, Gauthier said he is happy with the process for this year.

“We were consulted early on this year about some of the locations,” Gauthier said. “We feel there is a lot of merit to the program and that it will be an attraction for downtown as a place where employees want to work.”

The new carts could open as soon as Tuesday, and all should be operating by early summer.

The more rigorous selection process may have deterred some potential applicants -last year there were 800 applicants under a lottery system, this year there were just 100 applicants. Criteria for selection included using local foods and fair trade or sustainable products.

All 17 vendors that opened last year are still in business, Coun. Heather Deal said.

Andy Fielding, who operates Kaboom Box on the corner of Granville and Robson streets, said the hours are long and the work is hard.

“But, the work is also extremely enjoyable -I get to be outside all day and I get to make people happy all day by serving wonderful food,” he said.

Jay Cho, chef and owner of Coma Food, which sells Korean food, was granted a mobile permit, but not a permanent spot downtown. He feels his application fit the proposal.

“They wanted diversity and I gave it to them, but still I didn’t get selected,” Cho said. “They didn’t say why, they just said we can come down and talk to them.”

Johnston said there were more than 80 applicants that weren’t selected.

“I’ve offered to meet with them to discuss their application,” Johnston said.

Nearly 2,000 people responded to an online survey, and the food carts were selected based on the most popular choices in the survey. The approved carts include Korean fusion, Indian food, Greek food, fish tacos, Vietnamese sub sandwiches, shepherd’s pie, vegetarian food and many other choices.

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