Sparks Street food battle brews as market, restaurants collide

Restaurants on Sparks Street are upset over competition from vendors such as food trucks at the new farmer's market, so the BIA has asked vendors to stop selling ready-made food.

BIA asks food stands to stop selling ready-made food, says restaurants are its priority

Sparks Street might be biting off more than its customers can chew.

A battle has formed over feeding customers along the pedestrian mall, leaving food vendors reeling as restaurants lobby for business.

Three vendors at the new Sparks Street farmers' market told CBC News they were directed by the Sparks Street Business Improvement Area to stop selling ready-made food products.

That’s because it provides direct competition for restaurants along Sparks Street who are gearing up for patio season as the customer base grows.

The Hot Potato Food Company, seen here at the Sparks Street Farmers' Market on May 30, 2014, has stopped selling baked potatoes and is now limited to lemonade and other good that aren't ready-made. (Jamie Long/CBC)
This comes after vendors signed an agreement with the Sparks Street Mall to sell their products at the market, which runs on Thursday and Friday between O'Connor and Metcalfe streets. It features prepackaged food items, fresh produce, pastries and Vietnamese cuisine, such as the food stand owned by Nikki Nguyen and her sisters.

“The customers we are talking to are so sad because we will not be around maybe next week,” said the 23-year-old Nguyen.

Restaurants are Sparks Street's priority

Nguyen, who only immigrated to Ottawa from Vietnam one year ago with her two younger sisters, said they spent $5,000 to open their food stand. Now it looks like they will have to shut down after Sparks Street told them to stop selling ready-made food.

"What we have to do to stay is to change everything and it's not easy to do that,” said Nguyen, “And we had to do the math, too, to calculate the revenue and see if it's viable to stay."

The Sparks Street Farmers' Market was a new addition to the downtown Ottawa pedestrian mall in the spring of 2014. (Jamie Long/CBC)
Restaurants have complained about the farmer’s market due to the competition for customers, so the BIA has stepped up saying permanent businesses are its first responsibility.

“It’s not fair, you know. It’s not fair if these people waited all year to get the benefit out of the nice weather or out of the traffic … to have someone compete against them,” said Sam Elsaadi, chairman of the BIA.

Elsaadi said the BIA is reviewing the market’s vendors and their products to avoid direct competition. If some products are rejected, some vendors tell CBC News they might shut down their Sparks Street stands.

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