Yellowknife's nomadic food trucks looking for permanent homes

A Yellowknife food truck owner wants the city to begin issuing permanent, designated spaces to vendors, saying the present first-come, first-served system is stressful and counterproductive.

Vendor says current system hurts business and leaves customers hungry

Yellowknife residents flock to food trucks in the city's downtown during the summer months. One food truck owner is asking the city to create more permanent homes for the trucks, reducing the amount of jostling for position between food truck operators and drivers for downtown parking spaces. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

This year, Yellowknife's food trucks come with a new serving suggestion.

Murray Jones, owner of the Curbside Treats and Eats truck, is lobbying the City of Yellowknife to give food trucks permanent, designated downtown parking spaces.

At the moment, food truck owners must find parking where they can — battling cars and rivals for prime locations while also adhering to a complex City map, which blocks off areas directly outside brick-and-mortar dining establishments.

Murray Jones, the owner of the Curbside Treats and Eats food truck, is lobbying the City of Yellowknife to give food trucks permanent, designated parking spaces. (Ollie Williams/CBC)
Jones believes the resulting uncertainty makes life harder for vendors and hurts the service provided to hungry residents.

"One of the other trucks spent a lot of time last year driving around and wasting time," he told city councillors on Tuesday.

"You finally get set up at 11:55 and you're not really opening your doors till 10 after, quarter after — it's not very good."

Jones says cities like Vancouver already operate designated leased spaces, which vendors are then obliged to occupy and maintain on a daily basis.

"So on bad days, you can't say you're not going to be downtown. You have a leased spot and you are providing a service, rain or shine," he added.

Taste test

In Vancouver, competition for food truck licences — and the permanent downtown locations that go with them — is so fierce that previous applicants have faced an engineering review, a health inspection and even a panel of taste testers.

"We're only looking at three people, really," Jones clarified of Yellowknife's situation.

"I know there are a lot of other applications for licences but, once people realize the time and the cost involved, they don't follow through. We're only looking at three mobile vendors."

The proposal found support among councillors, with Adrian Bell urging administrators to investigate ditching the map-based system in favour of assigning dedicated spaces through a lottery.

"Leased spaces would make things a lot more efficient," said Bell.

'Valid points'

Javaroma, the downtown Yellowknife cafe whose owners previously voiced concern about competition from food trucks, backs the plan.

"In the past, this was always presented as us-versus-them. It's not," said Javaroma co-owner Fadil Memedi.

"We are bringing a parking issue to the City where they don't have to be crammed in one area and nor do they have to go around every day, searching for different spots."

Javaroma hopes designated spaces for food trucks would be spread out across downtown, curing the problem its owners perceive of numerous vendors gathering too close to their cafe.

The City's senior administrative officer, Sheila Bassi-Kellett, expressed interest in pursuing the proposal.

"The points raised are really valid in terms of having security of site, having them in places that are very clearly not interrupting the flow of parking, and not interrupting restaurant business," she said in response to Jones.

However, it's unlikely that Yellowknife will begin giving permanent homes to food trucks before 2018.

Instead, this summer, one possibility is a limited trial whereby vendors can purchase monthly passes for the downtown 50-50 lot — which was once a food truck free-for-all, but has since been designated a parking lot.

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