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Let’s open the door to food trucks in Kitchener


Despite a report that creates new opportunities for food trucks to operate in Kitchener (PDF), the likely end result is that food trucks will remain a novelty in our city–unless we tell Kitchener city council to open the door to food trucks.

Why? The proposed license fee options of $1947 or $1051 is much too high and there are not enough new opportunities for these businesses to operate frequently in Kitchener and be successful.

Current report is much better than the original

The new staff report to city council on food trucks is much better than the original report submitted in February. In fact it creates the opportunities to operate a food truck 7 days a week I had anticipated originally.

It also includes an idea originally shared here to allow food trucks in designated city parks such as McLennan Park and the Huron Natural Area.

Other positive changes include:Zane Caplansky outside his food truck

  • allowing food trucks in the Huron Business Park
  • reducing the minimum distance to the nearest restaurant from 200 m to 30 m
  • making Thursday night food truck night in the downtown core
  • allowing trucks to be in the Civic District one night a week

Unfortunately, these opportunities are likely not enough for food trucks to justify the licensing fees.

Citizen voices are missing from food truck report

The fact that food trucks were consulted for the new report is probably why it is better than the original which didn’t.

Restaurants were also consulted. The current report shares feedback from the provincial restaurant lobby and included a meeting open to any interested restaurant. The voices of the three restaurants that attended are included.

Missing? The voices of the citizens of Kitchener and people who work in our city. While seeking input may not have been possible given the tight timelines, this absence is still very disappointing.

Thousands of people flooded to city hall for last summer’s food truck festival. Surely their interests should be considered. Quotes in media stories and photos make a compelling case. I expect the city also has feedback via social media on this event.

In addition, Michael Druker and I took time to attend an afternoon meeting to make presentations to a standing committee of council as citizens. I also wrote a letter to the editor published in both newspapers serving Kitchener about the need for food trucks downtown.

But sadly none of that input is reflected in the report.

How to open the door to food trucks in Kitchener

Here’s how the City of Kitchener can improve upon the food truck report being considered by Council’s standing Finance and Corporate Services Committee on Monday morning. (PDF)

Set licensing fees at $778

The city report set the food truck license fee by comparing it to what it charges stationary refreshment vehicles (better known as chip wagons) and hot dog carts.

  • The $1947 fee is what hot dog vendors downtown pay. It attempts to recover the associated costs to the city. But there are only 4 hot dog vendors to help recover that cost which includes an expensive newspaper adtoinform people of open spaces.
    • The city has better, more cost-effective options to share this information.
    • By including food trucks in calculating this fee, there are more than four businesses sharing the remaining administrative costs. So the cost recovery per business will be lower than $1947.
    • Note: Hot dog carts should also be charged a lower fee. If they have already paid, they deserve a refund.
  • The $1051 fee is what the chip wagons pay BUT ONLY if they are new.
    • Page 3-14 of the report indicates that the renewal fee is $778. 
    • Any food truck that operated in the City of Kitchener in 2013 should be treated as a renewal.

So looking at related City of Kitchener fees, $778 is reasonable for 2014.

It’s still high though compared to Waterloo, Guelph and Hamilton which range from $200 – $324. Not only is Hamilton lower, it offers more opportunities to a city of 500,000 (comparable to serving the whole Region of Waterloo).

A lower fee may be possible in Kitchener too because the number of licenses is predicted by staff to increase from 12 (3 hot dog / 9 chip wagons) to 17 – 19. Some of the associated costs will increase but a lower gross revenue is likely needed to recover the new gross costs.

I hope that food trucks will be open to $778 IF they get more opportunities to operate daily in Kitchener.

Create opportunities 7 days a week in downtown Kitchener

Downtown Kitchener needs food trucks.

As a resident of downtown Kitchener who cares about the health of our business core, I am upset that food trucks will remain a novelty in the one place you’d most expect to find them.

While I like the Thursday night food truck idea and allowing them one night a week near the Centre in the Square, they continue to use food trucks as a novelty to occasionally attract people. By doing so, downtown restaurants are more likely to notice a negative impact when access to food trucks is both limited and publicized.

Having food trucks be a part of the every day reality of downtown Kitchener is a better test of the impact to businesses (both positive and negative) in the downtown core than the food truck as novelty approach.

Let’s have a pilot program that creates 1 – 3 zones where food trucks can operate daily at any time.

Let’s place these zones where they create some pedestrian movement including locations that make restaurants closer as an alternative if lines are long or the food truck menu isn’t to someone’s liking.

My suggestions are:

  • Duke Street behind city hall
  • King Street East between Frederick/Benton Streets and Scott Street which offers little of interest to pedestrians
  • Charles Street between Water and Francis Streets

I’d also like to see a space for trucks on Joseph Street near the clock tower and/or near the Victoria Park Pavilion. I’d suggest either could benefit the new operators of the Boathouse by making the park more of a destination for good food while at the same time different to attract people looking for different experiences. Doing so requires waiving a clause in the lease of the Boathouse but that is possible just as other distances in the report can be waived with agreement of the nearby restaurants.

We can enjoy both restaurants and food trucks

When the Region proposed a smoking ban in bars and restaurants, we heard that many of them would close because of loss of business. That never happened. No bar or restaurant closed because of that single change. And now the same regulations are found across Ontario.

We continue to enjoy a wide range of restaurants. People continue to open restaurants. They often do so close to other restaurants.

Opening doors to food trucks in Kitchener even in downtown Kitchener is no more of a threat than the smoking ban.

Competition may increase but then again the bank building across the street can unexpectedly become two restaurants. And food trucks will never compete with restaurants in the winter or on rainy or muggy days.

Looking to sit down with a friend over a coffee or a cold beer? Prefer air conditioning or to be warm on a cool day? You’re going to a restaurant.

We’ll all continue to spend more money in restaurants than we ever will on food trucks because of their built in advantages and offering a different, desirable experience.

Kitchener can enjoy both restaurants and food trucks. Let’s make that happen!

Contact your city councillor and make your voice heard on this issue!

 

photo credit: LexnGer via photopin cc

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8 comments on “Let’s open the door to food trucks in Kitchener

  1. Great read..letter sent !!! I don’t see the issue..it’s not rocket science..It is a win win for all.

  2. I sent my letter! Love the food trucks!

  3. Like the proposal the City has now . I also live and have lived in the core my 55 years and have seen Downtown Kitchener go through many changes. Look at those 5 restaurants on Duke for example. They made that area by working hard and staying afloat during the winter when no one goes out. They depend on the summer daytime months to survive.Put trucks on Duke Street? James…there are only so many who work and liive and when there are spots closing in downtown Kitchener already the food trucks for sure will put a death to the establishments that are there year round thus putting us back into the 80’s era of Downtown Kitchener.

    • Thanks for your thoughts John. I know you’re not alone. I’m confident though that any well-run restaurant with good food and good service won’t close by allowing food trucks (who are also local small businesses.)

      Did you know that one of those restaurants you mention on Duke started as a mobile pizza oven? And continues to operate a mobile pizza oven?

      Another started (and I believe continues) as a pop-up restaurant in uptown Waterloo, so its origins are similar to a food truck.

      In fact, Cheeses Murphy is working together with the West of Seoul food truck for a special event on Monday. That’s where I’ll be having my lunch after speaking to City Council. http://www.westofseoul.ca/p/blog-page.html

  4. I noticed both Exclamation and My Burger are up for sale, Duke Street Muse , Misty Mountain Coffee, Downtown Crepe Cafe, Caesaria have all closed recently. Well Run or not well run ….there are only so many that work and eat in the downtown core and if you flood it with Food Trucks during their peak times it will for sure take away revenues from these spots. I know both owners of Cheeses and Breadheads and ask them how their winters were? The city has offered them nights,parks etc but no…they want it all…it is starting to look bad on them the way they tweet etc.

    Perhaps there should be a United Restaurant Association of Kitchener?

    • We may need to agree to disagree John.

      Make no mistake about it. Running a restaurant is a tough business. Starting a restaurant is even tougher than the already tough job of starting any business.

      Where we differ is that I see food trucks putting people on the streets who may be attracted by food trucks but end up at a restaurant. Enticed by a cold beer on a patio perhaps? I believe restaurants even struggling restaurants have more to gain than to lose.

      I don’t see any flood of food trucks downtown this summer. I’d like to see a small number of food truck zones piloted. That way restaurants can see how food trucks affect their day to day business. I believe the current approach of having them be a novelty thus being “the destination” does more harm to restaurants in those periods.

      As to your last point, I think restaurants already have an effective provincial lobby organization.

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