What it was like to run a food truck in Toronto this year
Amanda Louie and her business partner Kevin thought 2016 was the perfect time to start a food truck in Toronto. That's because last year city council finally made it easier for mobile eateries to park curbside by easing restrictions between trucks and bricks and mortar restaurants.
They got a six month permit for the stuffed chicken wing truck Fully Loaded T.O and drove around the city at lunch hour. While they sometimes had to fight for spots, they want to ramp up their curbside service for next summer.
“It seems like curbside works the best for us so far... it’s just a matter of getting out there," says Louie, noting that for Fully Loaded, Church and Bloor proved to be their most profitable spot.
But not all food trucks believe in curbside. Despite its name, Curbalicious, for instance, operates under a different model. It got its start in 2013, but really ramped up the following summer.
Owner Brittney Pawlick knew what the food truck scene was like before the city introduced its new rules and still doesn't think the space is conducive for all the trucks hitting the road. She doesn't sell on the street and instead focuses on corporate and private events as well as festivals.
“The city has pushed us to a different business model, which is awesome for all of us. So there’s no reason for us to fight with the city anymore,” she says.
She's had the most success with corporate clients and says she's already taking bookings into September 2017. She's has, however, become a frustrated with festivals lately. Many charge food trucks a flat fee to be there (anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars) and some even take a percentage of their sales.
Because of this, food trucks have to raise their prices, which is frustrating for customers. While she participated in a number of food truck festivals this summer, she thinks she'll be choosier next year and will instead stick to a few music festivals, such as Wayhome, if only to remain in the public eye.
While she was considering doing one of the many big Christmas markets in the city, she ultimately declined because of the associated costs.
“It’s sad that our industry has felt that the only way they can promote themselves and keep their business going and generating some kind of revenue is to be outside in the middle of winter paying some organizer $5,000," she says.
"These events, as far as I’m concerned, have gotten out of control in the whole food industry and it’s just going to cripple business to the point where nobody’s going to sign up for them”
Kristin Butler, who runs Eva's Original Chimney with her husand Justin, on the other hand, praises the festival circuit. Eva's was one of the big winners this past season after it debuted the so-called doughnut cone.
“Toronto, I think, really loves ice cream and unique creations and combinations of ice cream," says Butler who appeared, and generated lineups, at a number of events including the Toronto Food Truck Festival, the CNE's Food Truck Frenzy and even at Canada's Wonderland.
The truck's currently stationed at Nathan Phillips Square for the Christmas market happening there until December 23.
Butler doesn't think her product is suitable for curbside, so in two years of running her business, she and Justin have popped up only at events and private parties.
Like many food truck owners, however, she and Justin are planning on opening a permanent storefront. It's a common next-step for trucks. Burgatory, a burger and fries truck, recently opened a bricks and mortar location in Little Italy, for instance.
Pawlick also doesn't only run her food truck; she also launched a catering business called Providore. All of these trucks also cater private events because, as she says, “corporate is the only future of the food truck.”
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