The minor scuffle that broke out last week between Javaroma and the City over food truck regulations seems to have been diffused, with City Council set to keep things status quo.
Instead of loosening restrictions on where food trucks can operate, as administration had suggested, the majority of councillors favoured reverting back to last year’s rules, which allowed only one food truck per block on Franklin Ave. and banned food trucks from parking on the blocks of 52 St. and 53 St. beside Javaroma.*
“If it’s not broke don’t fix it,” said Coun. Niels Konge, at Monday’s Municipal Services Committee Meeting. “It doesn’t seem to me that there’s a lot of people breaking down our doors or emailing us about change for this, so I’d just keep it the same.”
The one change that may squeak through is allowing an extra truck to park in front of the Greenstone building. And council asked admin to look into creating several permanent food truck-designated parking spots along Franklin.
“I’m pleased to see that this issue is starting to see some sense and everybody is communicating,” said Javaroma co-owner Fadil Memedi. “I was in the past thinking that there was loss of communication.”
Even Sousanh Chanthalangsy, owner of the One of a Thai food truck, seemed unphased by Council’s decision to go with the status quo, saying things seemed to work fine last year: “We’re all active on social media, so wherever we go, people are going to come, and it’s not a big city, people are going to walk.”
So why the proposed change?
The quick back-peddling on the proposed rules raises the question: why change them in the first place?
“In 2016 we wanted to ensure everyone was treated fairly and equitably,” explained Nalini Naidoo, the City’s director of Communications and Economic Development, at last week’s council meeting. There’s no reason, she argued, that Javaroma should get protection other businesses don’t enjoy.
The move to liberalize food truck rules was also supported by a majority of the people the City surveyed on the issue. Of the 282 people who responded to the City’s survey, 169 wanted no restrictions on food trucks. Only 22 supported the one-per-block rule on Franklin.
It has to be said though, that 76 percent of the respondents were not business owners. And the suggestion that garnered the most support, turning to 50/50 lot into a food truck court, was not even considered in updated rules, likely for reasons outlined by Thomas McGarrell, general manager at Boston Pizza: “If the 50/50 lot was to be used… You have two restaurants across the street on either side of the Gold Range that would be done, you also have the Cellar across the street that would be done, and you have Main Street Donair that would be done. They wouldn’t be able to compete, they might as well close down for lunch and not operate.”
Still, with council opting for the status quo, it does seem like the consultation was superfluous; perhaps an example of admin consulting the public when what was needed was a negotiation between the parties that actually have a stake in the issue: food trucks and restaurants.
Status quo v. innovation
Despite the debate rolling back on itself, one point made by McGarrell shouldn’t be forgotten: competition is a good thing.
He used to run a cafe in Calgary. “When the food trucks started coming to our area… it made us stronger and become better. We just couldn’t keep on doing what we’ve always done. We had to come up with new ways to compete against food trucks, and that was a challenge, we had a little bit of pain but we were able to bring it back.”
When six food trucks rolled up by his cafe, they swamped his business, cutting his sales by 90 percent. But when Calgary limited it to a reasonable two per block, the forced competition made his business better, as is happening right now with Boston Pizza: “Four new restaurants have opened up in my area, or on our side of the City in the past six months to a year and they’ve all generated more business for all of us. So I’m a strong believer that more business makes us all better.”
As he made clear, some regulation is necessary, and promoting consistency with guaranteed parking spots is a good idea. But let’s hope that council’s inclination to go with the status quo doesn’t encourage existing businesses, like Javaroma, to rest on their laurels rather than innovate.
* Correction: The initial article only mentioned 52 St. However, as administration pointed out to us, last year's parking ban on the Javaroma block also extended to 53 St.