All images, unless otherwise noted: Suresh Doss
If you beg and whine for it, it will come. Sort of. Toronto, you’ve been wanting food trucks, asking why you can’t find them every day and complaining about having to wait (guys, it’s a kitchen on a truck, not a fast food drive-thru). Finally, there is a fixed food truck location for the summer across from Union Station with a list of rotating trucks (there will be two daily and some may be trailers).
The man many deem to be at the forefront of the food truck movement is Suresh Doss, who is also the creator of www.SpotlightToronto.com. Doss organizes those popular Food Truck Eats events, helps to plan other food truck installations/events and is often the go-to man for those who are curious about starting a truck of their own. (Full disclosure: Doss is a friend of mine and I’ve helped him with some of his food truck events.) I’ve seen first hand how hard he works and how driven he is to expose Toronto to good street eats. He’s received quite a bit of press and even national attention, but he’s really just trying to change the rules and give people more options when it comes to good food.
The rotating list of food vendors is updated via Twitter and Facebook but you can find them at Bay and Front, Monday to Friday from 11am to 3pm for the summer months.
Why is it important to have a fixed location for food trucks?
Suresh Doss: To show that food trucks can integrate into the city on a daily basis outside of the ‘event model’. Food trucks can co-exist with restaurants without creating congestion, and provide diverse food options for people looking for something quick and tasty.
How can this benefit the city of Toronto?
Suresh Doss: Food truck hubs in designated areas or parks can generate revenue for the city. The containers (such as the ones at Scadding Court) can be a platform for indie food entrepreneurs that don’t have the money for a food truck, but want to test their food ideas.
What have been the challenges or obstacles in nailing this down?
Suresh Doss: The biggest obstacle is perception. Also a lack of understanding when it comes to what food trucks are and what street food is. People that haven’t travelled to Asia, or other countries where street food is the norm, have no idea what I’m talking about. The city doesn’t know what it’s doing with street food and continues to stand in the way of young entrepreneurs that can elevate and take food in Toronto to another level. Currently, food trucks are not allowed to operate in parking lots or city property. So these guys have to be on private property to serve. On top of this, there isn’t a temporary licensing system and licenses are expensive. Mississauga has a temporary day permit for food trucks. Soon other cities around Ontario will incorporate similar ad-hoc solutions to allow trucks to operate. St. Catharines, Burlington, Kitchener, Hamilton, but not Toronto.
What sort of financial responsibilities do food truck owners have to deal with? Many people seem to think having a truck is easy money.
Suresh Doss: Bad reporting has created a misconception that opening a food truck is like winning the lottery. In reality, you have to deal with cities that put up road blocks for food entrepreneurs. You have to first get through the painful licensing process, pay thousands in fees a year to operate, and continue to pay for fees depending on which city you want to be in. Many of the trucks are preparing food fresh to order. This takes time and it cuts into your margins. On top of it all, you have the challenge of finding enough locations/events to operate year-round to make it worthwhile.
What would you like to see happen to the food truck scene in Toronto?
Suresh Doss: I would like to see the City of Toronto work towards street food installations where we can consider restaurants, popups, and food trucks. In an ideal world, there would be a number of street food installations across the city with trucks and containers re-fitted to accommodate other food entrepreneurs (restaurants, popups, visiting chefs). This is the key to a great street food culture in Toronto.
There are a lot of food trucks popping up. Not all can survive or stand out. What are you noticing?
Suresh Doss: The culinary side of the food truck industry is growing slowly but there’s a lack of creativity in the food. Maybe it’s because the industry is so new, but we have yet to see our multiculturalism properly represented with the new trucks coming out. There are about five cupcake trucks that will launch in the next four months and about eight BBQ trucks by the end of the summer. That’s a lot of barbecue and cupcakes. What about dim sum? West Indian foods? Dosas? A dumpling truck or a really good burger truck?
Find out what trucks will be at Front and Bay by following: @RBPFoodTrucks
Suresh Doss: @spotlightcity
Image: Nina Popovic