A decision by Toronto City Council, will see tight restrictions on food truck operators loosened and have them roaming the streets by May 15. However, it isn’t exactly a step forward.
It’s a tease, more like two steps forward followed by a cruel step back. It kind of feels like it’s part of a large magic trick–showing the city what could be part of its evolving culinary scene only to cover it with red tape while Toronto waits for the pay off.
Under the new restrictions, food trucks are not allowed to set up within 50m of any restaurant, essentially making the downtown core a no-go, bypassing the thousands of people working there daily, leaving their stomachs empty and wallets full.
Only two food trucks are allowed to be operational on any one block, and they can only run for three hours a day. It highly restricts possible locations in high density areas like the Financial District, by Metro Hall or the Sony Centre. The city has a cap on yearly issued permits at 125, and there are already 27 trucks operational. Good luck finding a good spot for business.
To the city’s credit, they did locate 582 different spots and 58 commercial open lots that could be potential places to set up shop.
It’s not that food trucks should be given carte blanche. Restrictions keep order, and major North American cities with thriving street cuisine also have restrictions and rules that must be adhered to. That just comes with the territory.
But the city seems to be paralyzed by fear. Fear of health and safety when it comes to the handling of food, of further congesting downtown streets and sidewalks, and that food trucks will impact nearby restaurants, economically putting them on the streets the trucks occupy.
While those fears may be completely rational, the popularity and success of trucks in other cities without having their culinary worlds come crashing down, shows food trucks aren’t the devil on wheels they are thought to be.
What makes a food truck different than the fast food joint you got your burger from? While they may serve gourmet dishes, eating off a truck and eating in a restaurant are two vastly different experiences. The decision to choose one over the other is based more on personal preference and how much time someone has for lunch than anything else.
The most disappointing part is that Toronto can’t seem to go all in when it comes to street food. The Toronto a la Carte program is a perfect example. In 2009 it was supposed to add variety to the tried and true hot dog vendors that litter the city streets. Every owner was required to buy a $30,000 uniform cart, and the city had designated areas where those carts could and couldn’t be set up. It was a complete failure.
Now there is a sense that Toronto wants to embrace street cuisine, but its conservative attitude won’t allow it to commit. It’s like a teenager allowed to go out on a date unsupervised, but still having to check in and be home by 9:00 p.m. sharp or else.
There comes a time in everyone’s life where you have to let go, take a chance and be open minded to a new opportunity. As Toronto grows as a world class, multicultural city, it needs to embrace change as part of its evolution, and it could be something as simple as food trucks.
For that, there’s no magic involved.