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Eat & Drink

Toronto food truck alley hits summer speed bumps

Posted by Natalia Manzocco / August 27, 2014

toronto food truck alleyFood trucks tend to bring a party to the streets, but five weeks after Toronto's first-ever food truck alley rolled into the Tire Source parking lot at 141 Queen St. East, the sleepy corner of Queen and Jarvis, on an average day, is still on the quiet side.

The corner lot, designated earlier this summer as a spot where food trucks could roll in and park over the lunch hour to serve downtown diners, now hosts between one and three trucks every weekday. Though it may seem like boom times for Toronto food trucks, the space is experiencing something of a summer slowdown.

Though it's walking distance from Ryerson, George Brown College and St. Michael's Hospital, foot traffic is already on the slow side for the area, which hosts few businesses aside from a strip of stores to the west on Queen.

Trucks who attend the spot, including Fidel Gastro's, have seen major ups and downs. "It's pretty inconsistent," says owner Matt Basile, who's bringing the truck back to the alley on Friday. "There was one time we went there and we did really well - it was really busy, a lot of foot traffic. Next time we went there, it was no foot traffic, it was pretty sporadic. I think consistency's a big problem there."

Will Randolph, the space's organizer and owner of the Feisty Jack food truck, adds that many food trucks booked in the space don't always show up on the scheduled days, which throws off customers expecting to grab some of their favourite eats.

"The main question we get, every time we go there, is 'what's going on with the schedule?'" he says. "We've been getting rid of the trucks that don't show up - we've been weeding them out. There are a lot of trucks that are no longer welcome, because they've missed three days."

For the trucks that do attend, he says, business isn't bad overall; he reports that Gastro's, Food Dudes and Gourmet Gringos, in particular, have all had banner lunch services.

"If you want to put a truck there and serve food, there's a good opportunity to do it. There's lots of people that live in that area. It's a busy time. If a truck had a serious commitment and wanted to actually set up shop, they could do a good job - but we schedule people in, and they don't show up."

That's been compounded by the fact that they opened in mid-July, without much of a buffer before a slowdown in August. "You'd think it's good, but it's actually the slowest month of the year, because a lot of people go on holiday," he says. He and Basile both say they're optimistic for the fall, as office workers return from vacation and word continues to spread.

"Do I think it has potential to be a good spot? One hundred per cent," Basile says, adding that a tight lineup of trucks (no more than two or three at a time) and a larger push for awareness, like posters or signs in the area, would make a major difference.

"There's a lot of offices in a four or five block radius from that spot. I think the biggest obstacle is making sure the neighbouring office communities know that we exist, and that we're so close, because there's a lot between them and us.

"Knowing food trucks are an option there every single day is kind of half the battle."

Discussion

17 Comments

al / August 27, 2014 at 03:49 pm
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Give Mystic Muffin a try, it is really a great place and just round the corner. Best apple cake in the world! The chicken and potato sandwiches are pretty great too.
dee / August 27, 2014 at 03:53 pm
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stay away from Mystic Muffin, so disappointing - the food is mediocre at best. Never had their apple cake though.
G for Gelato on corner of Jarvis & Adelaide is pretty good.
Don / August 27, 2014 at 04:07 pm
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Ryerson and George Brown College are out for the summer, maybe they'll get increased traffic next week. THanks.
CW / August 27, 2014 at 04:07 pm
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> now hosts between one and three trucks every weekday

> "Knowing food trucks are an option there every single day is kind of half the battle."

Those two sentences are a bit contradictory. There may be A food truck there every day but who knows which one. I wouldn't want to show up there for lunch only to find a cupcake or muffin truck.
Citypainter / August 27, 2014 at 04:17 pm
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July/August are the slowest months for anything downtown, with a lot of office workers on vacation or working summer hours, and George Brown and Ryerson both pretty much closed. September should be a different story.

That said, the one time I walked out there at lunch a few weeks ago there was only one truck and it was lined up and serving something I wasn't much interested in. Somehow the phrase "food truck alley" implied to me that there'd be choice. The St. Lawrence Market is only a few blocks away and they have lots of choice.
Food Science / August 27, 2014 at 06:40 pm
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Food trucks need to be on major streets with high foot traffic. Queen, Dundas, College, etc.

This isn't rocket science. Anyone (*cough* restauranteur) who disagrees is acting purely out of self-interest and not mindful of the greater good.
Hal / August 27, 2014 at 06:59 pm
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Get it. Food Tucks, Speed Bumps!!!
Tim / August 27, 2014 at 08:49 pm
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This location is still a distance of a walk from George Brown, Ryerson, and Yonge and Queen. All of those locations have plenty of restaurant options around them already. On an hour lunch I'm not going to spend 20 minutes walking over there to pay food truck prices. Is there even anywhere to sit there, have they set up some tables, or am I supposed to eat in Moss Park?

Do they have any day of "real estate open house" style signage in the different areas they're expecting to attract? How is anyone supposed to know they're there?

Mike / August 27, 2014 at 09:26 pm
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The whole point of a food truck is that it is conveniently located VERY close to work. If you have to walk more than 5-8 minutes, then it defeats the purpose of why people like food trucks in the first place.

location location location
thissongismyanthem / August 27, 2014 at 09:32 pm
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This Will guy sounds like such a crybaby
Reg / August 28, 2014 at 12:09 am
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Why not do it one day a week? What are they trying to make a permanent food court? You're a food truck DRIVE AROUND that's your advantage.
fooooood replying to a comment from CW / August 28, 2014 at 09:01 am
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Get the foodtrucksTO app. I'm pretty sure it's developed by these people
bomster replying to a comment from al / August 28, 2014 at 09:46 am
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Mystic Muffin is a gem. Great apple cake, and the owner is relentless in keeping the place clean.
yeti / August 28, 2014 at 09:56 am
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My work is about a 5 min walk to the spot, and the last couple of times I went it was only 2 food trucks. I mean churros are good, but I thought the point of food truck is to have different varieties of food.
Also the website needs a major overhaul. The lack of updates and social media interaction is what is making it so dead. The first week when it was announced ppl would show up. But last week when me and a few colleagues were wandering buskerfest, we wondered if the food trucks were still in the corner... No one knew. But the main thing is to have a dedicated site (that is updated) letting everyone know what food trucks will be there. No body wants to be surprised by an empty parking lot on their limited lunch breaks.
PJ / August 28, 2014 at 12:35 pm
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@yeti - there is a site http://streetfoodapp.com/foodtruckalleyto
truckfoo / August 28, 2014 at 02:30 pm
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They should just open it up and allow any old food truck to stop by if there is room. The more the merrier and allow them at all times during the day. Sounds like it is reservation only etc, and may be some over organization.

Additionally, this place is a bit off the beaten path - it's a trek from the financial district. Nice in the summer perhaps, but not so nice in the Winter.

They could use some cheap signage - like the condo developments do. I see signs all over for condo developments 'this way' etc. Sticking out signs and placing them at intersections would publicize the fact there is a parking lot full (assuming it is actually full) of food trucks a short distance away.

Better yet, get rid of the manky hot dog vendors at Nathan Philips square and allow food trucks to just line the street down there.
truckfoo / August 28, 2014 at 02:32 pm
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To add - there are a lot of condos in this area and people walking back to their condos from work. So this location might do better serving dinner vs. lunch...

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