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Toronto New rules for Toronto food carts open door to whole new menu

People line up in May, 2010, at food vendors selling hamburgers, hot dogs and other eats along Queen St. West in front of Nathan Philip Square

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Corn-on-the-cob, whole fruit, veggie burgers and a slew of other goodies will be available at Toronto's food carts after council decided to expand the menu beyond hot dogs and sausages.

City council passed updated rules for existing vending carts on Thursday morning without debate.

But the new regime only applies to stationary carts. Toronto's burgeoning mobile food truck industry is still parked in legal limbo, where it will stay until fall at the earliest.

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"I think we opened things up a bit and it's a good start in terms of diversifying the menu a little bit from hot dogs or tube steaks. My hope was that we'd go a lot further and really open up the market," Councillor Josh Colle said.

"I know it's cliche to say ... you want to cut the red tape. But let's let these entrepreneurs have a go at it and see what they can do and what people want."

Mr. Colle last month tried to convince the licensing and standards committee to loosen the rules for food-trucks sooner, but his motion was shuffled off for study until the autumn.

Still, expanding the menu for existing food carts is a step forward for Toronto's municipal government, which botched its first attempt to dethrone the hot dog.

In 2007, the province eased a regulation that limited street vendors to selling hot dogs, sausages and a handful of other pre-cooked items.

Rather than let a new street food scene flourish, former mayor David Miller and his council created A la Cart, a centrally controlled pilot program that forced vendors to buy bulky standard-issue vending carts.

Weighed down by the carts and red tape, the vendors struggled and the project was quietly killed last year.

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The new rules approved Thursday will allow the city's many street carts to begin immediately selling such items as: pre-packaged salads and nuts; whole fruits and vegetables, including corn on the cob; bagels; tea and coffee; and precooked veggie burgers.

It allows other offerings too, so long as vendors receive permission from the city's health department.

As for food trucks, the rules governing them haven't been updated since the 1970s.

The vehicles aren't allowed on public commercial lots, and they can't operate on private lots unless those lots are properly zoned.

"Our current bylaws are outdated," Councillor David Shiner said. "They came at a time when it was a coffee truck that rolled up to a construction site."

He and other councillors are hoping the fall report will fix the problem, encouraging more food trucks to offer their tasty wares on Toronto streets.

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Using existing cart equipment, vendors wishing to expand their menus are limited to the following:

  • Pre-packaged cut fruits and vegetables using only vinaigrette dips
  • Whole fruits and vegetables, including corn on the cob
  • Pre-packaged fruit salad
  •  Bagels with individual serving containers of butter, margarine, peanut butter or jam
  • Pre-packaged nuts and seeds
  • Pre-packaged salads containing only vegetables and/or fruits with all dressings to be pre-packaged and not requiring refrigeration
  • Pre-packaged Tabbouleh salad and pita bread
  •  Soups
  •  Pre-cooked veggie burgers
  • Coffees and teas
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