In the parking lot of the Toronto’s Sony Centre, groups of people stand and eat while others mill from one brightly coloured food truck to the next. To the casual observer Toronto would seem to have embraced the concept of the mobile kitchen, but according to some food truck advocates, there are those that see the food trucks low operating costs and mobility as a threat to brick and mortar restaurants in the city.
Food trucks in Toronto are issued a permit and only allowed to operate in one location. This means that they can not drive from place to place on city streets and sell food. The city has also imposed a moratorium on new licences within the east-west boundaries of Bathurst Street and the Don Valley, and the north-east boundaries of Eglington Ave. and Lake Ontario.
Ward 32 City Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon and Ward 15 Councillor Josh Colle introduced a pilot program that started in August to allow food trucks to operate in designated city parks. This project runs from August to October and will also help in reviewing and updating the rules regarding food trucks.
Edward Birenbaum, Executive Assistant to Councillor Colle says that the rules are outdated and need to be changed.
“What I would say is that there isn’t a big blow back against food trucks now, what there is is a hold over of ill thought out polices from the past that haven’t been reformed,” says Birenbaum.
Local food truck operators say that the reason food trucks can’t operate on city streets is that permanent brick and mortar restaurants fear they will steal business from them.
In an email from Marianne Moroney, a local food truck advocate and executive director of the street food vendors association, local BIA’s or business improvement associations see food trucks as a threat.
“The restaurant industry feels they have to pay huge levies and have large rents and taxes and that trucks have an unfair advantage because they are not part of building a community but rather swing in take the customers and then leave. This is their perception. There is a feeling that trucks have an unfair advantage,” says Moroney.
Biernbaum says that this argument is not based in reality.
“That’s kind of fear mongering that’s a way of saying we can’t allow a little bit because the worst possible scenario will happen, which is I’ll have a restaurant and then you’ll show up and I’ll have no business and all the restaurants will close. Thats kind of a silly thing to say.”
Zane Caplansky owner and operator of Caplansky’s Deli also operates his own food truck called ‘Thundering Themla’. In an email to Skedline, Caplansky says that restaurant lobbyists like the ORHMA might be responsible for push back against food trucks.
According to it’s website the ORHMA is a hospitality organization which consists of over 4000 members representing 11,000 establishments across Ontario. Their mission statement says,
“The ORHMA is dedicated to fostering a positive business climate for Ontarios Hospitality Industry, while providing value-added services to it’s members.”
Tony Elenis is the President and CEO of the ORHMA. For 27 years he worked for the InterContinental Group of Hotels during which he also managed the Holiday Inn Select Airport Hotel.
“We are not against food trucks, we feel food trucks do belong as a concept. But there has to be an even playing field to protect brick and mortar restaurants,” says Elenis. He says that the costs of starting a brick and mortar far outweigh the costs of opening a owning and operating a food truck and that restaurants could stand to loose business to the food trucks.
“A restaurant, over time, invests a lot of time, creates jobs, helps the community, hires people. Because of their promotions or their servers or their menu they create a destination and then all the sudden mobile unit might just park adjacent to that restaurant and basically take revenues away,” says Elenis.
Elenis also says that it is too early to tell what kind of impact the food trucks will have on business in Toronto and to understand the true impact will take a few years of observation.
Birenbaum says that the market for food trucks is much different than the market for restaurants. He says food trucks usually service people on the go or those looking for a quick lunch. They do not have liquor licences and don’t have seating.
“If I’m walking by with five dollars in my pocket and I want to grab something quickly I’m not going into a sit down restaurant. A food truck also doesn’t serve alcohol, it doesn’t do all sorts of things so the idea it’s the same customer deciding between a restaurant and a food truck thats a bit of a fallacy,” says Birenbaum.
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