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Frank Morra, owner of Ragazzi Pizza, takes a bite from a slice of his authentic Italian thin crust pizza in Vancouver on July 8, 2010. (Jeff Vinnick/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)
Frank Morra, owner of Ragazzi Pizza, takes a bite from a slice of his authentic Italian thin crust pizza in Vancouver on July 8, 2010. (Jeff Vinnick/Jeff Vinnick/The Globe and Mail)

Food and Drink

Street renaissance under way in Vancouver Add to ...

Dim sum, burritos, southern BBQ and stone-ground pizzas are coming to spice up the city's hot-dog-focused street-food menu by the end of this month after operators were picked on Friday for 17 experimental vending spots.

The expansion has been in the works for some time. Mayor Gregor Robertson has said Vancouver could learn much on the issue from Portland, Ore., noted across North America for a varied food-cart scene that includes more than 450 carts.

City officials picked 17 operators by lottery from about 800 who applied for spots on city sidewalks and curbside locations. Alternates were also chosen in case winners are not ready. The winners have to have waste-management plans. Their food-handling practices will be subject to Vancouver Coastal Health inspection.

Until now, the interpretation of city bylaws for food carts has largely limited the menu to hot dogs, popcorn, coffee, ice cream and chestnuts, said Councillor Heather Deal, who has been the council point person on the issue.

Dozens of people watched Friday's lottery, crammed in a room in a municipal building.

"When I saw all the people, I thought, for sure, I wasn't going to get in, and then they called my name first. I was pretty shocked," said Frank Morra, 20.

Mr. Morra has worked for years in his family's pizza business. Now he's going to be selling stone-ground pizza from an eight-metre truck equipped with a pizza oven. He has tested the operation and says it's ready to go.



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"I hope it will work," said Mr. Morra, adding he was inspired by a honeymoon visit to New York City, where he saw street pizza being sold and concluded it would be "something cool" for Vancouver. His wife agreed.

"Everybody thinks I am crazy. Every single one of them. I am going to make it work - hope for the best."

He declined to be specific about how much money he is putting up to sell pizza for about $3 a slice and $15 for a full pie.

"We started with a budget. I've gone three times over it already. My wife is pretty mad at me. Hopefully, I am not sleeping on the couch."

Derek Ip, 22, won a spot and plans to sell croissants with toppings such as chocolate from a renovated mini-school bus. "I've been working in restaurants since I was 16 and it seems like a good investment for my family," he said.

Mr. Robertson said in an interview that Friday's developments are only the beginning of a food-cart renaissance.

"There's a good chance we can add dozens more carts in the city," he said. "I think this phased approach maximizes our chances of success - taking it a few steps at a time, and responding to the demand. It will be fascinating to see the uptake and whether there's a shift in eating habits on the street and people choose the new, diverse varieties over what was available."

Mr. Robertson said he has been a street-food fan in other cities, but Vancouver has missed out on the dining tradition. Now, he said he expects his city will catch up with Portland.

"They have a good head start," he said. "As a food city, Vancouver is in another league from Portland everywhere but our streets. Once our food culture can proliferate on the street, I think we'll catch up."

Ian Tostenson, president and CEO of the British Columbia Restaurant & Foodservices Association, welcomed the cart boom, saying his organization has received comforting assurances from the city that the operations will not be placed so that they would compete with restaurants offering similar food.

He said he expected the carts will appeal to the "brown-bag" crowd out for a quick, cheap meal who probably would not go to restaurants anyway.

 

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