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Few Toronto food-truck owners pick up new mobile permits

Tamara Chaikin, who runs Localista food truck, is one of many owners who won’t be taking a risk on a new permit.

Deena Douara/The Globe and Mail

Ahmed Duale has driven taxis, tow-trucks and trailers, but now he's driving a truck he can cook in.

Mr. Duale has opened a new food truck, Kal & Mooy, in Toronto with his wife Aisha Mohamed, formerly a hairstylist.

The duo, who have thought about getting into the street-food scene for nearly seven years, opened their business selling Somali and East African food "with a twist" last week in a city where they've resided for 27 years.

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Mr. Duale is one of only nine food-truck owners so far who have picked up a new mobile vending permit that the city started issuing on May 15.

At a cost of $5,066.69 a year, the permits allow vendors to park curbside, but only if they don't set up within 50 metres of any open restaurant and only for three hours at a time.

There is a limit of two food trucks per block.

Amid high-profile debate around the new food truck vending rules, the city's licensing office held extended hours in case of a long lineup the first day the permits went into effect.

But just six permits were issued May 15, followed by two more the next day and one this past week.

"I wasn't expecting that to be honest with you," Mr. Duale said of the unenthusiastic response. "That morning, I had to get up early to get there. I was third or fourth in line."

The city has capped the number of permits at 125 over the next 12 months – that includes 27 existing curb-lane permits that belong to trucks with designated vending areas.

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The owners of Frankie Fettuccine, Dobro Jesti, and Fidel Gastro's are among vendors who will not be buying a mobile permit in Toronto this year.

Gorilla Cheese and Buster's Sea Cove are also likely not to buy a new permit in the near future, according to owners Graeme Smith and Tom Antonarakis.

Zane Caplansky, owner of Toronto's first modern food truck, Thunderin' Thelma, has been an outspoken advocate for loose mobile vending restrictions and says the new permit and ability to park on private lots for longer periods of time are "not a viable solution."

"We have the most expensive permits in the world for mobile street food, and we have the most restrictive laws in the world for mobile street food. Even with the parking lots, it's uncertain how we can operate given the parking lots that are available in Toronto," he said.

Days before Kal & Mooy opened for business curbside for the first time, Mr. Duale had planned to set up at Bay Street and Queens Quay, but construction forced him to find a spot near the Ryerson University campus.

"I tried to get a place as close as I can and this is it, all the way to Church and Gerrard," he said. Still, he said, he believes he made the right first step and is ready to face the challenges ahead.

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"Some people if they say they want to wait and see, that's understandable. For me, I take a chance. I want to try," Mr. Duale said.

Tamara Chaikin, who runs Localista food truck, is one of many owners who won't be taking a risk on a new permit she feels "does nothing" for her.

"We're going to expand Localista; we're going to do things differently. We're going to work with farmers' markets, a lot of private catering and clientele, and just not worry about going to nightclubs at two in the morning to sell whatever we can," said Ms. Chaikin, who owned a restaurant in Indonesia for 14 years and gave up the brick-and-mortar business.

Toronto Business Improvement Areas no longer have the power to veto mobile vending in certain areas, but a BIA or a city councillor can request that an area be restricted. The local community council, though, would handle appeals.

City spokeswoman Tammy Robbinson said as of May 23, no BIAs have asked for restrictions to be made and no complaints have been filed. A review of the street food program is continuing, she said.

"The 125 mobile vending permits is for the first year only and will be revisited," Ms. Robbinson said in an e-mail. "In terms of expectations, we prepared for the maximum number of permits."

Editor's note: A previous version of this article said incorrectly that the owner of Gorilla Cheese is Will Graeme. In fact, it is Graeme Smith.

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