Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Case for New-Style Food Trucks in London, Ontario

The Case for New-Style Food Trucks in London, Ontario

London City Council agreed to get public feedback on proposed pilot program to allow new-style food trucks. The current bylaw is outdated, because it was drafted to deal with catering trucks, hotdog carts and ice cream vendors.

Multicultural “gourmet street food” food trucks are trending. They've been building in popularity thanks to food shows, farmers’ markets and culinary events across North America. In London, the food truck phenomenon is just in the midst of emerging. Although the process is still in its preliminary stages, the possibility of permitting food trucks and other mobile food vendor vehicles as: gourmet food trailers, mobile market food trucks and ethnic- catering-type food trucks are gaining grassroots momentum.

Modern food trucks serve a diverse variety of healthy options and cultural foods in other cities. They are positioned to incubate new businesses and become an alternative launching pad, for healthy, creative food. There is, of course, a big difference between the greasy-spoon chip wagon and the food truck that serves healthy gourmet or ethnic street foods.

We like food trucks because they stimulate culinary innovation and diversity, draw culinary tourists, provide employment, and contribute revenue to the city. They help stimulate community, and are destined to become an important part of the social and culinary fabric of the city.

Local proponents of food trucks have concrete short-term goals. Their principal goal is to introduce the growing food truck industry to London in a thoughtful and articulate way, by creating guidelines and following best practices, so the current restaurant culture can continue to be successful and not feel undermined or threatened by food trucks.

Food trucks have their detractors in the restaurant community. But, they also have their champions. The argument against food trucks is that they're stealing the business of more established bricks-and-mortar- restaurants.

It is true that food trucks have some advantages over a traditional eat-in restaurant. Mobility and the ability to travel to where the customers are is a definite plus. Generally speaking, food trucks have lower overhead, compared to a restaurant, and require less staff. However, a food truck is still a labour-intensive business that requires a lot of work and attention. Entrepreneurial food truck owners often put in long days and have comparable difficulties to restaurateurs, such as slow seasons, unpredictable weather, sluggish economy, red-tape and bureaucracy.

Food trucks are subject to standardized health and safety regulations and inspections. In some cities they are required to adhere by distance restrictions; a buffer zone separating them from existing restaurants.

Another negative stereotype is that they are bad for the community and are trying to undermine efforts to feed kids nutritious meals. In reality, many food trucks are providing a much healthier alternative to fast food chains.

Food Truck Eats in Stratford in coordination with Ontario Food Trucks came together in the Stratford market square last year. The event saw gourmet food trucks from GTA alongside local chefs with their own pop up food stalls for the day. The food items presented were authentic, street food-inspired dishes that also featured Perth County farmers and producers.

Local entrepreneur, Dave Cook, wants to launch a food truck this summer, selling fair trade coffee, ethically-sourced chocolate and cold beverages. The truck would be stationed at predetermined locations on weekdays and travel to special events on evenings and weekends. Fire Roasted wants to work with local restaurateurs and chefs, community partners, like the city and various economic development organizations to get more food trucks on city streets.

Bryan Lavery

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