Food trucks across Canada are putting the pedal to the metal.
According to IBISWorld, the number of Canadian mobile food vendors has more than doubled in under ten years. In Toronto, for instance, food truck licenses increased by a whopping 400% from 2014 to 2016.
A significant contributor to this industry spike is the pattern of relaxing bylaws in favour of food trucks. Bans have been lifted in cities such as Quebec City, and mandatory food truck fees have been reduced across the board.
In July 2017, the Competition Bureau of Canada released a report urging cities to review their mobile food vendor regulations. Although official alterations have yet to be implemented, London,ON is one city looking to better support its food trucks.
However, this positive approach to mobile eateries wasn’t always the case in London.
Chris Bunting is the owner and operator of Goodah Gastrotruck. He serves up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and other comfort foods like macaroni and cheese and jalepeño poppers.
His business was the first mobile food truck to hit London’s streets.
Now, London has one of the shortest minimum distance requirements from a restaurant in Canada at just 25 metres.
According to the London Food Truck Association member Ricardo Cavaco, the city council also plans to drastically reduce the licensing fee for food trucks. Today, the fee sits at $1255. Cavaco reports that the council has agreed to lower the fee to $500 in 2018.
Bunting says these favourable changes are reducing the barriers for newcomers. Already, he’s hearing from multiple parties interested in joining the industry.
But before entrepreneurial Londoners decide to take the plunge, perhaps a closer look at running a food truck business wouldn’t hurt...
Ricardo Cavaco, 35, is the owner of Bifana Boys. Named after one of Portugal’s most popular sandwiches (bifana), Cavaco’s truck serves fusion Portuguese food. He loves referring to his menu creations as “old favourites with modern twists”.
Cavaco, a trained culinary professional, started his truck in June 2015.
Initially, he saw the business as more of a temporary experiment.
“I wanted to find a way to start something up that wasn’t so permanent in the sense of having to get a building, setting it up, signing a five-year lease...all that kind of stuff. It was more like something that I could try out.”
Now, over two years later, Bifana Boys has become a fixed favourite amongst London’s food truck goers.
Cavaco says one of the best things about the business is getting to meet and chat with people every day. He values the constant feedback he gets from those who frequent his truck.
Cavaco is also thankful for the time flexibility that his truck allows him to have. With a young daughter, he appreciates that he can set his own hours and work the truck’s schedule around his own personal timetable.
Although, time isn’t always on the side of food truck owners. London’s bylaws restrict the areas in which vendors are allowed to park their trucks. As a result, claiming a spot downtown to serve the lunch crowd can be challenging.
Fellow food truck owner Dee Spencer of the Diva Donut agrees.
“It’s...tough for me,” she laughs.“I’ve been a night owl my whole life, so mornings are not my friend.”
Another challenge that all of London’s food truck owners face: the cold.
Spencer says the majority of London’s trucks aren’t insulated enough to withstand the winter months. With so much of the vehicle’s power going toward running the appliances, there isn’t enough for heating. Plus, when the order and serve windows are constantly open, there isn’t much point, she adds.
As Bunting from Goodah puts it:
When the snow begins to fall or the temperatures drop below freezing, the trucks go into storage. Cavaco called it a season the last week of November this year. Assuming spring comes around in late March or early April next year, that translates into a four-month off-season.
But London food trucks are constantly finding new ways to grow their businesses. Bunting and Cavaco both have stalls at the Western Fair Farmers and Artisans Market. This allows them to continue serving customers to all year round. As well, they have the added benefits of working out of a commercial kitchen for larger catering orders and expanding their menus.
Some of Cavaco’s food creations are also set to appear in the Forest City Cookbook, a crowdfunded project that will feature over 60 local chefs, farmers and artisans.
Better still, perhaps the most lucrative idea that has London’s food truck operators like Cavaco, Bunting and Spencer: the London Food Truck Association.
In June 2017, Spencer, Bunting and Cavaco came together to form the London Food Truck Association.
The trio had previously noticed that whenever their trucks were gathered close together, they tended to draw a larger crowd.
According to Bunting, “One food truck by itself is not a food truck scene made.”
But when parked side by side, Cavaco says they become an attraction because of the food variety.
“You can go out with your family or with your group of friends and each of you can be eating not only from a different truck, but eating and sharing different food, and I think that’s something really cool,” he adds.
Since forming the group, all three vendors have seen their customer-bases grow.
The association has expanded to include five of the seven food trucks in London. But Bunting says some are confused by how the association works in favour of its members. People have an ‘every truck for itself’ mentality, and struggle to see beyond the perceived negative competition.
For Bunting, however, competition is only positive.
Cavaco isn’t bothered by competition either. He says as long as you have a unique product and market well, you’ll attract customers.
Although, Cavaco, Bunting and Spencer emphasize how hard they all work to be successful.
“Be prepared to work about 300 hours per month,” Spencer warns those interested in starting a food truck business. “It’s not just the time that you’re actually on the truck. It’s also doing supply runs, and a lot of your own social media. We all do that; we all do our own marketing, advertising...but I love my truck, I love the business. We all do, and that’s why we do it.”