What do local Toronto businesses think of food trucks?
Change has been creeping into in Moss Park, but the neighbourhood recently welcomed a sudden glut of brand-new faces - specifically, a rotating slate of food trucks based out of the TireSource parking lot at Queen and Jarvis, known as the Toronto Food Truck Alley. And though the Mystic Muffin a block south has always been coated with goofy, irreverent signs touting the virtues of their sandwiches and apple cake, there's now a new addendum down at the bottom of a chalkboard advertising the salad specials: "You deserve better than food trucks".
It's nothing personal - "I do my things," says Mystic Muffin owner Elias Makhoul, who's been on the corner for more than 21 years. But he does think his little lunch counter, which sells pita wraps for about $5 and lunch combos for about $10, offers a value the new guys can't: "If you want to pay $10 for a little thing, they can do it.
"Tell them Elias said 'Bring them on'," he laughs.
The new food trucks have been drawing a moderate reception since they turned up earlier this summer, with a slow August for the area's food businesses - mobile and brick and mortar alike - ready to rebound as students return to school and workers return from vacation. The space, which usually plays host to a rotating lineup of one to three trucks, is undeniably spartan - it's set up in the parking lot of a still-operational auto shop.
That's where Tatiana Shabotynsky, owner of the Pink Grapefruit takeout counter across the street, takes some exception to the new project. "People get confused - they're like 'That's Food Truck Alley? It looks like a food truck.' Sometimes, there's just one."
Shabotynsky, who's been working to form a Moss Park BIA, says she wants the alley to do well - but believes a more steady lineup of trucks, in a less-slapdash environment, might be more enticing to diners. "If they were to have an actual alley, it would have to be a street or something - they can park there, bring out chairs, maybe shut the street down if they're in business. I think that's what people were envisioning more than what it is." (She adds, however, that city red tape would likely make that a massive uphill battle.)
"I do hope for the best for it. I want it to be better-promoted. I want it to not be in a tire parking lot," she says. "Put up picnic benches and all that. Do it properly. I think that's what needs to happen, and then maybe the food trucks would feel a little bit more safe to promote themselves and have more of a permanent home - give it a real go."
Ultimately, she says, she'd like to see the trucks, and the alley's organizers, show some investment in the community. "The businesses that I've talked to - we want to do a big thing showcasing businesses in Moss Park, change Moss Park together. But you only do that, or are motivated to do that, when you've made that type of financial commitment or long-term commitment - which the mobile trucks don't do," she says. If business gets bad, trucks can pack up and leave anytime, while brick-and-mortar locations, moored to the spot, have more of an incentive to find new ways to improve traffic and business in the area.
"It doesn't mean (the trucks) don't want to - they might want to. But there's probably a lot of permit restrictions that prevent that from happening."
Over at Fahrenheit Coffee, owner Sameer Mohamed and barista Benedict San Juan have noticed the lunch crowds' traffic patterns changing. "Normally, they'll cut across Lombard and go down to (St. Lawrence Market). Instead, I see more going northward," Mohamed says.
Adds San Juan: "I've noticed there have been a few instances where we've had people who specifically went for the food trucks, but on their way back, they noticed us," though he says that's just a handful of new customers.
Though the changes have been small, Mohamed's in full support: "Anything that drives traffic to the area, makes people more aware of what's happening in this area, we're happy about."
It's also been driving snacks to their store. "A couple people have actually traded churros they got up there for a coffee - so they've done very, very well for us," he laughs.
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