Food Trucks React to Toronto's New Street Vendor Laws

By Suresh Doss  |  May 7, 2014

After years of deliberating what to do with food trucks in Toronto, the City of Toronto recently approved a new set of bylaws to ease some of the restrictions that have been haunting street vendors for years.

Starting May 15, Toronto's gourmet food trucks will finally be allowed to roam the city, sort of. The new bylaw gives trucks some wiggle room in where they can park. Currently food trucks are limited to operating out of private spaces (such as Sony Centre, #10baySt, #lot110) and events. By purchasing a mobile food vending permit ($5,066.69/year or $13.88/day) on May 15 they'll be able to utilize pay-and-display parking spots throughout the city with a few exceptions. 

The most important rules to note;

  • Trucks are not allowed to park within 50 linear metres of an open and operating restaurant.
  • Limited to two food trucks per block. 
  • Trucks can vend for a maximum of three hours, subject to parking regulations. 

In addition to parking at pay-and-display spots, licensed commercial parking lots are also up for grabs (there are over 50 in the city). Currently food trucks are limited to a maximum of 10 minutes of service time in a parking lot.

The new set of changes comes with a storm of criticism from the public and food truckers. Some of which are directed toward the 50 metre rule, which limits where the trucks can park in a densely packed restaurant core, and the limited number of permits the city will be issuing this month (125 permits in total, but 27 have already been reserved to grandfathered ice cream and chip trucks). There's also a lot of debate among truckers on how quickly these permits will be taken up on May 15 by potential franchises that are carefully eyeing Toronto's street-food scene. 

We went to the truckers themselves to ask them what they thought about the new set of bylaws and what it means for street food in Toronto.

  • Gorilla Cheese

    Will owner Graeme Smith of the hugely popular Gorilla Cheese get the new Toronto permit? "I'm 95% no right now. I'm keeping the remaining 5% open for somebody to convince me the program won't be a nightmare. It's already very difficult to find a parking spot in the core of Toronto, never mind finding two or three in a row to fit a food truck in those limited areas where we would be allowed. Circling a block dozens of times to wait for a spot to open will be infuriating, and there will be further problems when other trucks will be doing the exact same thing. I really hope this doesn't cause a potentially nasty and competitive environment amongst the trucks. To pay more than $5,000 for this frustration seems ludicrous to me. I can't help but feel like the program in Toronto was designed to fail, created only to appease the restaurants that buy into the myth that their business will be negatively affected."

    So what exactly does this mean for the grilled cheese truck? "When it comes to Toronto services, I'll keep doing what I've been doing; operating on private lots and at events and functions. I will take advantage of the ability to park in Green P and other parking lots as they become available, as well. Then again, the commute on the Gardiner may make me insane enough to give up Toronto all together! And, of course, I'll continue to serve my home of Hamilton, where the city has embraced food trucks and is running a very successful program."

    If Smith had his way, what would he change about Toronto's street-food scene? "First thing I would change is the price. Even a city like New York only charges a fraction of what Toronto will charge for a permit. Also, I would have liked to have seen a more comprehensive program that allows trucks to reserve a spot for certain times, so the truck can book it and rest assured that it will be available to them when they show up for service. I also would have reduced the distance we can operate in relation to restaurants and eliminated the ability of BIA (Business Improvement Associations) to arbitrarily ban us from their territories".

  • Gourmet Gringos

    The boys behind the Gourmet Gringos Latin truck are optimistic about the new program. Since launching their food truck nearly two years ago, owners Krystian Catala and Terry Nicolau have gone and opened a number of restaurants throughout the city under the Gourmet Gringos brand. "Yes, we will be getting the new city permit," Catala says. "If not this year, we think the licence will be useful in the future. Luckily, we have many catering event contracts that allow us to avoid relying on street services as much. However, public lunch and dinner services do account for at least 30% of our food-truck business."

    Is there something Catala would change about the program? "I would change the distance to restaurant restrictions."

  • El Gastronomo Vagabundo

    It's been awhile since we've seen the hugely popular El Gastro truck on Toronto city streets. Owners of the first gourmet food truck in Ontario are not optimistic about the new permit. "No, we will not be getting a new Toronto permit because it is too expensive considering the curbside restrictions.Our focus is on St. Catharine's and the Niagara region."

    So where can one find the food truck? "Our season here in the Niagara region has quickly filled up with events, markets and curbside services. We are currently going through the precess of trying to open a restaurant.  And we are looking forward to the launch of my cook book Curbside in November." 

    What would Hynam-Smith change about the city's restrictions on food trucks? "The city of Toronto should look at the benefits of food trucks and the culture they inspire. I would model the Toronto licence after world-class cities that have made it work such as LA, Austin, Vancouver, Calgary, Portland and many more."

  • Localista

    Localista is a fairly new food truck that launched last July. We spoke to owner Tamara Chaikin about the new permit. "No, I will not be getting the roaming licence because the areas in which we could operate are too restrictive and potentially can cause food trucks to be at odds with one another by squabbling for the limited spaces," says Chaikin. "I also think the licence is too expensive and does not suit our model of operation."

    She continues: "The current laws do not welcome food trucks, they merely are willing to tolerate them with many conditions tacked on. I'd like to see city spaces designated food truck-friendly, the 50 metre restrictions lifted, organized food truck events and either a lower licence (roaming) fee or more reasonable vendor fees for city events."

  • Buster's Sea Cove

    Owner Tom Antonarakis doesn't see any light at the end of the tunnel for the new program. "I will probably not get the ‎new Toronto licence as I think they're setting us up to fail. I think the future actually looks good for my truck with all the events and private catering we have booked. I would change the fee they are charging us and get rid of the 50 metres of a food establishment."

    But Antonarakis does like some of the changes: "I do like being allowed to serve at parking lots."

  • Frankie Fettucine

    What does the new set of bylaws mean for Canada's first gourmet pasta truck? "We will not be getting the new licence. We can't afford it! We don't feel that the new outlines warrant a $5,000 licence," says owner Frank Mazzonetto. "The future is very bright for Frankie Fettuccine; we are doing tons of corporate and private catering! West of the city is treating us very well, and we will continue to vend in Hamilton. We will be back in Toronto for regular lunch spots and larger festivals."

  • Dobro Jesti

    Torontonians are lucky that this Caledonia-based food truck regularly makes appearances in Toronto. We spoke to owner Jim Godina about the new permit. "We will be sticking with our existing licence. Being over an hour away from Toronto, we won't be fighting for a parking spot on the streets. We are quite happy with the current arrangement with property owners that love food trucks. We like coming to Toronto; the people love our food. And there are lots of people. We have a busy, busy season ahead, and it looks like we'll be living in the truck for most of the summer. I think Toronto should make certain areas "food truck" areas. Areas like they have on Front Street where the grandfathered trucks are presently."

  • Fidel Gastro

    We spoke to owner Matt Basile, owner of the Fidel Gastro food truck and its home restaurant, Lisa Marie. Will Basile be getting the new permit? "At least not this season," he says. "We have a business model for the truck that we think is the right direction for us. The new licence requires an investment on both the licence itself and the means to see a return on it (staff, food, operating costs). I don't see how the new licence will help the truck improve it's business."