Sunday, January 5, 2014

Goodah Gastrotruck and the Case for Food Trucks in London, Ontario

Goodah Gastrotruck and the Case for Food Trucks in London, Ontario



Last June, 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 The current bylaw is outdated, because it was drafted to deal with catering trucks, hotdog carts and ice cream vendors which are mostly confined to private parking lots and special events.
City staff revised their initial food truck proposal and a much less restrictive pilot project was proposed. There was no set date for the report back from staff, but they were instructed to look into possible locations, menu selection guidelines and a creative approval proposal process. Bylaw Enforcement Manager, Orest Katolyk, told the committee the likelihood is food trucks won’t hit the streets in London until spring 2014.

Although the pilot project 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 looks like a done deal.
In the meantime, The Goodah Gastrotruck is leasing space in a private lot because it’s illegal to operate on city streets. Since December 9th, lineups have formed in the cold for Goodah’s hot gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, soups, and occasionally beef and four bean chili smothered with cheddar and served with grilled sour dough and a side of sour cream. The gastrotruck is located in a parking lot on Queens Avenue west of Clarence Street. You can expect to see the truck parked in the same spot every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout the winter.

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. Recently, Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA) got in on the act. They have been involved in discussions with various Southern Ontario municipalities, including London, on the wave of Food Trucks gearing to set up operations. The argument against food trucks is that they're stealing the business of more established bricks-and-mortar- restaurants.

In any event, food trucks continue to have their champions and continue to ride a wave of popularity in part due to Food Network Shows and the ability to leverage social media and engage community. 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. Let’s hope to see some positive resolution in the upcoming months.

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