A critical step in council’s plan to expand Toronto’s street food scene began with a whimper on Thursday, after only a handful of newly available permits giving food operators more freedom were sold.
As of 5 p.m. ET this afternoon, only six of 125 permits had been bought by vendors.
The $5,000 permits, which allow food trucks to set up for service on city streets with paid parking metres, went on sale this morning at 8 a.m.
Under the current licensing scheme, food truck operators are limited to private parking lots, commercial spaces and private events. Even with the new, substantially more expensive permit, food trucks cannot park closer than 50 metres to a restaurant and can only stay in one place for three hours.
The city was reportedly expecting most of the permits to sell today, and indeed some food truck owners were lined up early outside the East York Civic Centre this morning to grab a permit. But some of the city’s most prominent food trucks told CBC News they won’t be buying in.
"The $5,000 permit fee — just to be able to go to a metred parking area — there is just no business model that would support buying that permit," said Scott Fraser, co-owner of the Hogtown Smoke truck.
"Even if the permit was $1,000, with all the limitations and parameters the city has included it’s just not worth it."
Matt Basile, creator and co-owner of the Fidel Gastro truck, called the permits "a good effort" by the city, but said his truck would need to generate about $150,000 in revenue in just four months for the permit to make financial sense.
"The numbers just don’t add up … I’m not surprised that more trucks aren’t lining up for the permits."
'We want to co-exist'
The public conversation surrounding food trucks in Toronto began in earnest about three years ago, and has been mired in disagreements between food truck operators and other food-service industry interests.
Fraser said he believes restaurant industry lobbyists and members of local BIAs pressured council members to place unnecessary restrictions on the new permits, particularly the rule preventing trucks from parking near restaurants.
"We don’t want to take business away from restaurants. We want to co-exist," he said. "We thought the city got it … but at the last minute they seemed to turn back on all the things we’ve been talking about for the past three years."
According to Fraser, food trucks are an effective way to "incubate" better restaurants throughout the city, since operators will often set up a brick-and-mortar storefront after a few successful years selling eats on the street.
Wayne Mattless, the director of business licensing and regulatory service for the city told CBC News that the restrictions on the new permits were put in place to protect existing businesses.