Like mourners at a gravesite, people lined up Thursday on Railway Avenue in Vancouver’s industrial east side to get their last Korean barbecue tacos and bibimbaps from the popular Coma Food Truck, now in its final week of existence.
The predominantly 30-something crowd also expressed a wild variety of condolences – a sign of the passion and seriousness with which Vancouverites have become attached to food trucks.
“This is a ... travesty,” said Jeremy Pierre, a developer at the HootSuite office just steps away from where Coma has made regular twice-weekly stops for the past year. He, like many, blames city bureaucracy for Coma’s shutdown.
“I’m going to be sad when it’s gone,” said Erico Nascimento, one of eight young workers from Appnovation, another nearby tech firm, who had come out for lunch.
“I was posting on Facebook and Twitter about how my life is ruined now,” said Jonathan Whang, another from the Appnovation group. He came bearing plastic containers so he could buy some extra burritos to tide him through the weeks ahead.
But the owner of Coma Food Truck, a 27-year-old Korean immigrant in Vancouver by way of Los Angeles, is not shutting down his truck this Saturday because he couldn’t get a permit.
Jay Cho could have renewed his existing permit this year. But it was for one of the city’s 20 mobile food trucks.
What made Mr. Cho throw in the towel was that he did not get one of the coveted permanent spots in the city last month. It was his second try and, he decided, his last, after being one of 47 applicants who didn’t make the cut for the 12 new spots awarded.
“Why should I wait another year just to please the city?” said Mr. Cho, who has decided he will go to New York to study at the Culinary Institute of America, then aim for a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Mr. Cho said it is difficult to operate a mobile operation that has to find new spots every day with the hope parking is available.
And he’s baffled as to how he didn’t have enough points to be given a permanent spot, when he routinely gets rave reviews from customers and the media. As well, he already has an operating truck – unlike at least one truck-less applicant given of the 12 spots this year.
Coma Food Truck’s imminent departure has stirred up a small storm on Twitter, where many have been posting testaments to the quality of Mr. Cho’s food – and complaints about his treatment.
Vancouver Councillor Heather Deal said she’s upset to see Mr. Cho is quitting.
“I’m really sorry he’s shutting down,” said Ms. Deal, the point person on the wildly popular food-truck program that started two years ago with a little over a dozen trucks and has now grown to 123 – 103 in permanent spots and 20 that have to roam, like Coma did.
But, she said, the trucks are rated by different groups of people who assess business plans, health and safety, nutritional value and yumminess – groups independent of each other and of council. So Mr. Cho is not being picked on or singled out.
Mr. Cho’s reaction, she said, “shows me the program is a success because people really want in.”
Certainly, Mr. Cho seems to be in the minority with his decision to up and quit. One of the people first in line at his truck Thursday was Alessandro Vianello, who is planning to apply for one of the mobile permits next month after also failing to secure a permanent spot last month.
Mr. Vianello, a former executive chef at Prestons in Coal Harbour, is going to be serving Mediterranean-style food such as wild-mushroom pies and his version of coq au vin, with the hope of creating a “restaurant experience on the street.”
“Obviously it’s upsetting we didn’t get [a permanent spot] But I can’t just pack up and quit now. It’s too late.”