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Eat & Drink

Toronto needs to re-open the debate on food trucks

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / July 8, 2014

toronto food trucksWhen city council passed new regulations concerning streetside parking for food trucks in April, they expected a flurry of interest from vendors looking to feed hungry Torontonians from the sidewalk.

In a response to demand from the food trucks, who previously were only allowed to set up shop in privately-owned parking lots, the city created voluntary permits which would allow trucks to set up on city streets - but only for three hours at a time, only in spots 50 metres away from existing restaurants, and only after paying $5,000 a year for the privilege. In order to avoid a glut of applications, a motion from Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam capped the number of available permits for the next year at 125, including 27 already in circulation.

They needn't have worried. Since the new permits became available earlier this spring, less than 10 of them have been sold..

Most veteran food truck players, many vocal in their opposition to the restrictions presented by the new permits, have decided not to bother with them, sticking to their old privately-owned haunts and using their existing customer base to fuel business. Those who sprang for the permits are mostly newer players, like Randy's Roti and Me.n.u, who lack that existing following.

Councillors who backed more open regulations say they're not surprised: "It's a lot of money to pay for very, very few opportunities, and for many food truck operators, it's not worth their money or their time," says Coun. Josh Matlow.

"I've been hearing from food truck owners that they're not happy," adds Coun. Mary Margaret McMahon. "Obviously, with the uptake of the licenses, that shows."

It's not so clear-cut for Wong-Tam, who advocated for higher restrictions on the grounds that an explosion of food trucks parked in front of brick-and-mortar restaurants would undercut existing businesses.

"Literally, we've had about a month, a month and a half of exposure," she says. "So I don't believe that (nine permits) is a bad number at all, especially considering it's still relatively new."

When the rules came into effect, she says, "it was largely about creating and opening new opportunities, and I think the regulations have been able to do that."

McMahon, however, maintains the permits don't provide enough businesses opportunities for the dollar value. "Most food truck owners would agree that they think the fee is high, but they would agree to pay it if there was less red tape," she says.

Most contentious is the 50-metre rule, which makes most of the downtown core a no-go area. "It does nothing but make food truck regulations so restrictive that it's virtually impossible to put a food truck anywhere where it would be an attractive destination for the operator," says Matlow.

Since the rule's been passed, brick-and-mortar businesses seem to have been mostly silent on the new rule. "I haven't heard from our businesses. Not the ones in Ward 27, anyways," Wong-Tam says. "I haven't heard positive feedback, nor have I heard negative feedback. It seems to be pretty much neutral."

Wong-Tam says she'd consider a looser set of laws if trucks were encouraged to set up in city-owned Green P parking lots. "I would be open to revising the distance separation then, largely because the impact to the public right of way is not as great," she says, adding that would also keep food trucks from blocking patios and sight lines, impacting the curb appeal of existing businesses.

"From my experience traveling in the U.S. and places where food trucks have been popular, food trucks are not necessarily best when they're operated on the street, but rather in parking lots or adjacent open spaces, and that's where they can bring out the chairs and umbrellas and actually create a destination space," Wong-Tam says.

She anticipates that the rules will likely be up for review in about a year; both McMahon and Matlow say that they'd call to reopen the debate. Where Matlow would repeal the 50-metre limit, McMahon plans to push for the rules the licensing and standards council originally wanted: a 25-metre restaurant radius, a five-hour limit to parking (instead of three), and no limit to how many trucks can be on a block at once (instead of the current limit of two).

"I think council made the wrong decision - which is so typically Toronto, unfortunately," Matlow says. "Just hesitant and timid about taking a chance, and allowing for something new and exciting to happen...You've gotta take a chance sometimes to see results."

Photo by Jesse Milns



freddiefasthands / July 8, 2014 at 08:40 am
It's amazing that you have a bunch of idiot councillors who are the ones deciding on whether or not this is a success or failure. Loosen the regulations and let's see what happens. Every other place in the world that is food truck friendly is a success. Somehow Toronto is different and special? What a stupid city this is sometimes.

The last paragraph sums is up perfectly:

"I think council made the wrong decision - which is so typically Toronto, unfortunately," Matlow says. "Just hesitant and timid about taking a chance, and allowing for something new and exciting to happen...You've gotta take a chance sometimes to see results."
Steve / July 8, 2014 at 08:50 am
So Wong Tam has travelled and seen food trucks set up in parking lots. So what? That doesnt mean she knows everything about how to run one. Ive been to places where food trucks are free to roam where they want and people track them through twitter and GPS.
FoodTruckDigest / July 8, 2014 at 09:23 am
We need innovation in this city. Read The Food Truck Digest -->
iSkyscraper / July 8, 2014 at 09:36 am
Something as basic as food truck law is pretty easy to research -- just find the rules that work best in Portland, Seattle, SF, NYC, Chicago, Boston, DC, Philly, LA, etc. and copy them.

Which of course the city did not do, instead making up their own ridiculous rules because they thought they knew what they were doing.

Toronto - the City that Forever Reinvents the Wheel. (And Ends Up with No Wheels at All)
Al / July 8, 2014 at 09:43 am
If the operators can't make the license work financially, then the demand isn't there. The private lots are working fine.
fair and balanced / July 8, 2014 at 09:43 am
Why stop at food trucks? Let all businesses set up trucks anywhere they want. And drop the fee. The city can make more money at the parking meters.

How great would it be for an and coming artist or clothing designer to be able to just sell out of their car?

Hell, it would be great to have a Timmys closer to Trinity Bellwood entrance. As long as it were on wheels.

Sometimes I dont want to go to a mall to buy my shoes, would be nice if the mall stores were lining my morning jogging path so I could see my options each day.

God Bless replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / July 8, 2014 at 09:57 am
Totally agree. Toronto sucks, I sit here wishing I was in Philly. Our rules and regulations have only limited our ability to be more like every other American city. Councillors please stop reinventing the wheel and let Toronto become LA.
Cool Ideas / July 8, 2014 at 10:05 am
Im gonna buy some old winnibegos and rent out beds to travellers with awesome views like at the base of the CN Tower and in the middle of High Park!
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from God Bless / July 8, 2014 at 10:48 am
Classic xenophobe. This is the kind of we-don't-need-to-learn-from-anyone attitude that led to Rob Ford.

Because you know what? When it comes to Food Trucks, being a little like LA is not a bad thing.;find_loc=Los+Angeles%2C+CA

1 / July 8, 2014 at 10:48 am
TO needs a food truck like this one
McRib / July 8, 2014 at 10:54 am
Matlow sums it up and says what we are all thinking.
Kathleen / July 8, 2014 at 11:24 am
in NYC they have clothing stores in trucks too
CW replying to a comment from Cool Ideas / July 8, 2014 at 11:38 am
> Im gonna buy some old winnibegos and rent out beds to travellers with awesome views like at the base of the CN Tower and in the middle of High Park!

Awesome!! I'll park next to you with my latrine van (its really just a bucket that people piss into). The air fresheners do a pretty good job, but you have to empty it at least once a week.
Terry replying to a comment from Kathleen / July 8, 2014 at 11:54 am
We have clothing and music trucks here as well. I've seen them around and been in a few.
Frank replying to a comment from freddiefasthands / July 8, 2014 at 12:35 pm
Jesus, like any industry there is always going to be competition. If trucks are stopping and eating up your business, consider a different program. Change up your menu.

These food trucks are amazing, quality food that we have been deprived of for years. We need to make laws a lot more laxed for these guys and let them grow.

5000$ a year to sit on the curb and hope for business? Rigghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhht.....

No fun Toronto at it's best.

Were getting our own food truck alley in Toronto!!! / July 8, 2014 at 12:41 pm
more to life than that / July 8, 2014 at 12:53 pm
Aren't there something like 230 food trucks in the city? The food truck lobby certainly has a VERY good friend in BlogTo.
CaligulaJones / July 8, 2014 at 01:05 pm
2014 food trucks = 2009 a la cart
Wong-Tam = John Fillion

Same ol', same ol'...
chrisjames416 / July 8, 2014 at 01:36 pm
city council never makes wrong decisions.... they make decisions based on campaign donations / restaurant industry lobbying.

i wouldn't be surprised if the association that represents restaurateurs in this city is lobbying city hall and its councilors to crush the food truck scene in this city.


TTC and Transit 20 years behind the times we are only trying to catch up now..

Roads and infrastructure development are SO far behind (gardiner expressway i'm looking at you)
Mike / July 8, 2014 at 01:54 pm
Is it really the job of the city to protect existing businesses from competition?

If so, why doesn't the city pass a bylaw preventing new restaurants of any sort from opening within 50 metres of an existing restaurant?
Gabe replying to a comment from Mike / July 8, 2014 at 01:58 pm
Agreed. Should shut down all drive through windows as well, unfair advantage. Want food our drink get out of your car and save the exhaust and congestion from drive through lines spilling out onto the street.
amy replying to a comment from Mike / July 8, 2014 at 02:00 pm
Yep, brick and mortar restaurants should then also not be allowed to have a food truck as well. No double dipping.
Stephanie / July 8, 2014 at 03:23 pm
I totally agree in Toronto re-opening the debate for food trucks. Food trucks a fantastic way for caterers, restaurant operators, chefs and entrepreneurs to gain an additional revenue stream. It allows them to bring their food more easily to the people while cultivating a buzz surrounding their food. Not only that, but Restaurants Canada (who is the voice of the foodservice industry in Canada) surveyed more than 400 professional chefs across Canada - Food Trucks - was on the list as one of the top 10 hot trends on Canadian Menus. i would hate for the great restaurant's and foodservice operations in our great city to lose out on this opportunity to get in on the trend.
Janette / July 8, 2014 at 03:28 pm
I love Toronto food and I was so on board with making food trucks more accessible until it actually happened. Now I see them around and am disgusted at the smell and the noise of the generator it takes to make them go. Hours of burning energy, and for what? A taco? There was actually one IN Trinity Bellwoods at some event a couple weeks ago, and it completely ruined the park. Who wants all that noise, smell and garbage? Not I. Restaurants are wasteful enough, adding the truck component just makes it even more guttonous and digustiong.
facts / July 8, 2014 at 03:58 pm
we are not the same as every other city. we have different popultion densities, weather, and economic spread

"rent" for the most prime parking space is $4/hr. equivalent to approx $800/mth. a prime food stall in the same neighbourhood would run $5000/mth plus startup costs and risk of lease terms. and they cannot up and go when biz is bad, they still have to pay rent.

ciiw, but i believe trucks can register their businesses outside toronto, and therefore not have to pay city taxes.
Al / July 8, 2014 at 05:36 pm
Food trucks need a city permit to sell in the city whether a new permit or an old one. Just like Toronto food trucks pcant just drive into any city or town they like and start selling. So food trucks have to deal with increased gas prices. Fact is why you complaining about restaurant rents, if they have good business AND ITS MANAGED PROPERLY AND LEGIT BY THE BOOKS they shouldnt be struggling to pay the rent.
ohh facts / July 8, 2014 at 05:40 pm
AND what you dont think Food Trucks have expenses and truck leases to pay? Thats up to each individuals business plan whether they want an actual restaurant with staff etc to pay or a food truck. Not anyone elses fault if theyre in over their head in rent..
Global Warmer / July 8, 2014 at 07:28 pm

Why does Walmart love food trucks so much?

When will the Walmart truck finally be allowed to park in front of Caplansky's on College?


Blessed replying to a comment from God Bless / July 8, 2014 at 07:33 pm
If you were in Philly you might have a different opinion. Have fun waiting in line on the sidewalk....
Sean replying to a comment from freddiefasthands / July 8, 2014 at 08:44 pm
Idiot councillors indeed.
j-rock / July 8, 2014 at 08:55 pm
Food trucks. How are we still talking about fu*#ing FOOD TRUCKS?! This should be simple.
Spike replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / July 8, 2014 at 11:50 pm
No, they're right, and I'm tired of all of this 'Toronto should be more like_________' meme that I see on this site. Why can't people enjoy Toronto AS IT IS without having to bring in EVERYTHING from the USA? We didn't (and don't) need food trucks in the downtown core since we have a lot of restaurants serving the same food anyway. Why can't these trucks set up shop in places where they're needed (construction sites, factories, and the like?)
rob / July 9, 2014 at 12:53 am
Can we implicate Rob Ford in this? It seems like city councils fault but I’d still prefer to blame Rob Ford. He’s such a slob i’m surprised he isn’t supporting this industry.
Spud / July 9, 2014 at 01:41 am
Spike why can't people like you go where you are needed (construction sites, factories and the like?) We don't need you in the core of the GTA we've already got a bunch of opinionated tools that need to have a say but don't have a clue
Chris M / July 9, 2014 at 09:51 am
I usually agree with Wong-Tam, but she is off the mark on this one. the 50 metre rule is crazy. Make it 20 metes. Then, if a restaurant can't compete with what is essentially a fast food truck, they need to do better.
Kevin Brown / July 10, 2014 at 12:25 am
Absolutely the debate must be reopened but this will NEVER happen if the same bunch of downtown Councillors who messed this up are re-elected.

If you believe that Food Trucks should be allowed to do business in Toronto make sure you VOTE OUT OF OFFICE the councillors who are standing in the way.

On top of the list to be voted out of office are:

Kristyn Wong-Tam
Pam McConnell
Mike Layton
Gord Perks

Make sure you get educated before you vote. Find out which of the challengers support Food Trucks and which ones don't. No point in replacing one of the above Councillors with someone who is anti-Food-Truck
Anthony Young / July 10, 2014 at 09:26 am
People who want food trukcs on the streets should just go to the U.S. Since they are so fascinated by it. Restaurants actually create work for college and unicersity students. How many people can you get in a truck? I am annoyed coming out of the library at U of T and be force to smell in the air te disgusting smell of grease. I am sure all of those who favour this truck business are just truck owners who are upset that their business is not doing as well. Just look at the population of the downtown Toronto. How manu trucks do you want tomhave on the road. Therenis already much traffic and polution. You want to make money think of different ways.
lerxt / July 10, 2014 at 10:10 am
This comes from the people who brought you "Toronto a la cart"!

What other bureaucracy and red tape can this city come up with?

EM / July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am
If we want to be like NYC, which is clear, we need to learn to take risks like it! Toronto the clean and boring ...even Montreal is head and shoulders over us. #shame
hofame / July 10, 2014 at 06:38 pm
I was really intrigued about the food trucks and down loaded the app and went looking for one.... there was one out near the airport... and another somewhere near Mississauga. I ended up getting in a car and driving 20 minutes to get to the closest one. Let the trucks downtown - they are potentially an exciting addition to the food scene in TO. Food from a truck on the street, is not the same thing as dining in a sit-down restaurant, anymore than grabbing a hotdog at a cart is like dining in a sit-down restaurant. Next time I would like to be walking to and from my chosen food truck.
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