Owner worries about getting food truck bylaw right

Costs and access are major issues for mobile eateries

With the food truck pilot project wrapping up one prominent participant says now is the time to iron out the kinks in the program before they become major problems. Braizen Food Truck owner and chef Steve Glavicich is an enthusiastic proponent of street food and he is now working hard to make sure Calgary does it right as the municipal government writes its proposed food truck bylaw.

“The city has shown incredible partnership in dealing with us” stresses Glavicich. Yet he has a list of concerns expressed by food truck operators that he wants addressed. “There should be intense dialogue… before the hurricane gets out of hand” he says. “We need to address this if there’s going to be 60 trucks on the street.”

Although it’s difficult to directly compare the costs between a food truck and a fixed restaurant one of the issues operators face is what many of them feel are government fees that are prohibitive for their small businesses. The city’s business department estimates a downtown restaurant that does not serve alcohol will pay $277 for inspections and permits. Glavicich says he pays roughly $2300 per year in similar fees plus approximately $20 a day to park the truck while preparing and serving food.

Kent Pallister chief license inspector with the City of Calgary confirms those numbers. He says the city’s reasoning behind charging more is to “create a level playing field” and offer something in lieu of the business taxes a restaurant at a fixed location must pay.

In addition to paying more than four times as much for a business licence food trucks also require an annual road use permit worth $1200 though they also pay for parking on city streets and parking lots. Inspections by the fire department gas and plumbing department and Alberta Health Services add several hundred dollars to the enterprise. A new experiment to allow food trucks into 24 city parks also comes with a $150 entry fee. The men agree it’s a surprisingly expensive business venture.

Pallister says another concern is striking a diplomatic balance between food trucks operators “brick-and-mortar” restaurant owners who worry of unfair competition from their mobile counterparts and the public.

“The pilot project was really how to make it work for the food trucks” he says. Once the pilot is over and food trucks gain their own licence category and associated bylaw the 43-truck limit will be lifted. He says restaurant owners are encouraged to co-operate with food trucks that frequent their neighbourhood but the city does understand anxiety over competition on their doorsteps.

“Sometimes the brick-and-mortar places are saying it’s good that you’re going to allow [food trucks] but not too close to my restaurant” he says. “[Balance] that’s what it’s all about. We’re looking at making it easier for food trucks and not too restrictive but not at the expense of restaurants. We hear both sides though. The food truck operators will say ‘I’m not competing against the restaurants. If people are going to go sit down and dine for lunch that’s what they’re going to do.’ We have restaurants that are very sensitive about ‘Hey you’re letting this truck park right outside of my restaurant and I sell similar food that’s not fair.’ …Some people want to go to a park and not see a commercial enterprise… so yet again there’s a balance.”

Glavicich says he understands the restaurant owners’ perspective but city restrictions could cause quality food trucks to fail.

The bylaw would limit food trucks to two per block. They also would not be allowed to operate in residential areas near schools or prohibited parks or within 25 metres of a restaurant without written permission from the restaurant. They would be prohibited from operating anywhere in Kensington Montgomery Bowness Inglewood or Uptown 17th Avenue.

“There’s nowhere for us to park” he says. He suggests 10 to 15 areas dedicated to food trucks during the lunch hour would relieve a lot of the tension that exists now as restaurants give them the bum’s rush and trucks compete with each other for premium parking.

“We didn’t get a lot of buy-in from the city departments for designated spots” says Pallister. He says that with so many different city departments managing food trucks it’s difficult to convince them to co-operate on concepts like Glavicich’s though he points out the Calgary Parking Authority has created a few dedicated spots and allows food trucks to pay for parking in five-hours blocks while other drivers must leave after three hours.

The proposed food truck bylaw goes to city council on July 17. Pallister says he expects it to be finalized by September.