February 19th, 2014
Finally, after nearly seven years of planning, thousands of hours of debate, and a disastrous first attempt, Toronto is on the verge of passing street food policy that could actually lead to street food being sold.
“It’s going to happen. Come hell or high water,” said Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon. “It’s long overdue.”
Multiple councillors say city staff will soon be putting forward a series of recommendations that will allow food trucks to easily operate throughout Toronto.
If everything goes according to plan, by this summer Torontonians will have access to smoked meat sandwiches, delicious Mexican churros, and authentic Italian pasta dishes on sidewalks across town — rather than hard-to-find pop-up shops.
City spokesperson Tammy Robbinson said the specifics won’t be made public until a week before the March 18 Licensing and Standards committee meeting, but numerous councillors involved with the process have been briefed on plans.
Councillors Josh Colle, Josh Matlow and McMahon said staff will likely announce that covered food trucks — not to be mistaken with food carts — will be free to operate between 20 to 50 metres of a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, provided parking is available.
Options could include metred parking, city Green P lots or privately-owned lots.
A staff presentation prepared for a public consultation town hall in January raised each scenario for discussion. At the very least, Colle expects city staff to allow food truck vendors to set up arrangements with parking lot owners.
As part of any recommendations, staff will likely set a limit on the number of trucks that can operate in a given area, as well as the number of permits available each year.
In general, said Councillor Matlow, the idea is to write as few rules as possible.
“They seem to be turning some of those most draconian street food regulations in North America into the freest food truck policy on this continent,” he said.
“I think that this issue is symbolic of the unnecessary red tape that people see at city hall. Policy should be there to the serve the public good. And if it’s not serving the public good than it should be changed.”
Efforts to break up Toronto’s hotdog monopoly began back in 2007, when Councillor John Filion began pressing the province to allow for more culinary diversity on city streets. It required a change to food regulations. The province complied. And things were looking up.
The city launched the A La Cart program in 2009, which brought wraps, salads and samosas to the street food scene. But after a year it was declared a failure, strangled by over-regulation and $30,000 mandatory equipment.
Street food proponents turned their attention to food trucks, which, because they’re enclosed, have fewer health hurdles to overcome. The question became where to put them?
Food trucks aren’t allowed on most city streets, and they can’t sell on private lots for more than 10 minutes. (That rule is definitely gone, said McMahon.)
Not everyone is happy with some of the proposals.
Leslie Smejkal, the vice-president government relations with the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, said her organization will reserve judgment until reviewing the final bylaw, but she pre-emptively spoke out against some of the potential recommendations.
“Our position is that food trucks should have a designated location within the municipalities,” she wrote in an email. “However, they should not compete in close proximity to brick and mortar restaurants and should not occupy metered parking essential to local residents visiting restaurants, retailers and professional service providers.”
Chef Zane Caplansky, who has been on the frontlines of Toronto’s street food war, both as a vendor and an activist, said he’s not given up hope the city will come to its senses, but he’ll believe it when he sees it.
“I’m hopeful that they’re finally getting the message that food trucks work in Toronto the same way they work in every other city in North America,” he said. “That the city has been so slow to react is frustrating.”
He cautioned that any recommendations that don’t allow vendors to sell from the curb won’t work. People need to be able to line up on the sidewalk, not in some far-off parking lot.
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