The City of Toronto is looking at loosening up the laws that affect gourmet food trucks.
Increasing the amount of time food trucks can remain in one place and making it easier to get a permit are among a handful of new suggestions by Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards division to make its roads friendlier to food vendors.
The city announced these suggestions at the first of two public forums at Toronto City Hall as part of the creation of a new street food bylaw.
“Food trucks are important to a city because they can offer a different and more diverse dining experience than a restaurant or a traditional hot dog cart,” says Carlton Grant, director of policy.
“They want to do business in our city… we want to find a way to make it work.”
The city has been heavily criticized in the past for having strict regulations on how food trucks can operate. Food vendors are currently regulated by six separate, yet overlapping, bylaws, some of which date back to before the city’s amalgamation in 1998. A few areas, such as Scarborough and parts of North York, don’t allow any food trucks at all.
“Torontonians want them,” says city counc. Mary-Margaret McMahon. “We live in one of the most multicultural cities in the world, and unfortunately our street food does not reflect that.”
The city’s plan is to convert these six bylaws into one harmonized bylaw that loosens the restrictions.
This March, staff will propose its recommended bylaw to the licensing and standards committee. The city’s goal is to have a new bylaw ready by this summer.
“I think they’ve gotten it wrong for so long… but I’m cautiously optimistic now,” says Scott Fraser, owner of the Hogtown Smoke food truck for three years. “The current rules simply don’t work. They were made for ice cream trucks ten years ago.”
Food trucks currently aren’t allowed on most of the city’s streets.
They cannot operate out of street-side public parking spaces or within 25 metres of a restaurant selling similar food.
They also aren’t allowed to sell for more than 10 minutes on a private parking lot, a bylaw that food vendors are adamant about changing.
“Pulling in for 10 minutes doesn’t do me any good,” says Mr. Fraser.
“We’re a five-star restaurant on wheels. It takes us an hour to set up the truck.”
It also didn’t do any good for food truck owner Helen Antonopoulos.
The city forced the Food Cabbie owner out of a private parking near Queen Street East and Mutual Street in 2011, despite having all the proper documentation and a booming business.
“We had our fish tacos every Wednesday, and we’d be sold out by one o’clock,” says Antonopoulos, who has since catered for corporate events, weddings and birthdays. “It just didn’t make sense why we had to leave.”
The city tried to address its problematic food truck regulations in 2009 with its unsuccessful “A La Cart” program, which forced vendors to purchase a $30,000 cart and follow restrictive guidelines on food selection in order to participate. The program failed when seven of eight participants either withdrew or demanded concessions from the city in 2010.
There will be a second public consultation session on Jan. 20 at Toronto City Hall.
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