Montreal’s meals truck business could also be shedding steam

Montreal’s chartered accountant Michele Galipeau calls for changes to the operating conditions for street food in the city.

“With the fourth street food season … starting soon,” the auditor wrote earlier this year, “we find that activity is subsiding.”

Galipeau recommends a simpler truck approval process and registration of license holders with the city’s food control system.

This summer only three counties are offering food truck locations – Ville-Marie, Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie and Outremont – while six counties participated last year. Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Sud-Ouest and Verdun are the three who dropped out this year. The reason: too few customers.

“Because there is a slowdown in the industry, it will be a little different this year.” says David Lefebvre, VP of Restaurants Canada, who also cites weather and construction as factors.

Food truck owners say the locations where trucks can operate are not attractive in terms of visitor traffic and that current rules deny them access to some of the best locations in town for pedestrians – while some places like downtown Dorchester Square, good for lunch, other locations are on quiet back streets. Trucks have to park in specific areas, and the city doesn’t allow food trucks within 50 meters of restaurants. In Toronto, the minimum distance is 30 meters and trucks can choose their parking spaces more freely.

“We want better access to parks, public spaces and private parking lots,” says Gaëlle Cerf, co-owner of the Grumman 78 taco truck and co-founder of the Quebec Food Truck Association. “At the moment we only have access to the street.” And even then it is limited.

Montreal has long had a rocky relationship with street food. It wasn’t until 2013 – when street food was gaining popularity in many major cities around the world – the city lifted a 66-year-old street food ban and commissioned the Ville-Marie district to run a pilot project in specific locations on its territory.

In March 2015, the local council passed street food statutes that introduced a much larger selection of city-wide locations and enabled trucks to move between locations. (Note that some counties, like Plateau-Mont-Royal, have consistently avoided allowing food truck locations within their borders.) More trucks were allowed to take to the streets in more locations, despite the city setting up a body that would select which food trucks deserved approval. But according to Cerf, there have never been more applications since the program began than permits and places were available.

In April of that year, Montreal changed the statutes by abolishing the truck selection committee and adding more flexibility in location selection and assignment – but some say the changes don’t go far enough. In a statement to Eater, a city representative said that food trucks are considered valuable to Montreal and that every year the city analyzes the industry, and particularly food truck locations, to select attractive locations for truck owners and customers.

But Montreal’s rules on food trucks – including where to park and how to get permits – are generally far stricter than other cities in North America with street food scenes.

“When the city council launched the food truck program, it was little more than a pilot project,” says Lefebvre. “There is more room for discussion and improvement, maybe not for this year, but for the next.”

Cerf also hopes the situation will improve. “We have the feeling that the administration is listening. It’s just that the administrative processes are long and it shows. That’s the problem.”

“We wait – we wait like everyone else.”

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