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Toronto Is Taking Another Look at Food Truck Bylaws

The City is once again aiming to make its streets a friendlier place for food vendors.

Operating a food truck in Toronto can be a complicated business: you’re not allowed to set up shop in the majority of Toronto streets; you can’t work for longer than 10 minutes in a privately owned parking lot; you can’t settle yourself in a side street; and you’re forbidden from selling your wares within 25 metres of a restaurant that deals in a similar kind of food.

It certainly doesn’t help that as things stand now, food vending is regulated by six different bylaws.

The City is once again ready to take on the food truck issue (its last attempt, which resulted in the “A La Cart” program, was not a success)—proposals discussed at the first of two planned public consultations included extending the time a truck is permitted to remain in one place, increasing an operation’s maximum space allowance, and making permits easier to acquire.

These suggestions, and ones arising from the second public session scheduled for January 20, should lead to a proposal involving one harmonized street food vending bylaw. Staff will then present this proposed bylaw to the City’s licensing and standards committee in March, which means that more straightforward rules (and perhaps more food trucks) could be in place by summer.


  • HotDang

    They should just make it a free-for-all, location-wise (obviously they still need to respect health codes, etc). There is no justifiable reason not to.

    • OgtheDim

      See how long it takes for the media to start putting out woe is me stuff from franchise owners. A LOT of people buy into those and lose their shirts. And then some guy can waltz in with a truck and take the business while the good weather lasts?

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        I’m sure the media would have an easy time finding underperforming restaurants to complain about food trucks “stealing” business. If a food truck – or other restaurant – can “steal” your customers, they weren’t yours anyway. Paying rent or licensing a franchise doesn’t mean the world owes you customers; you still have to earn and keep them with good service, food, and price.

        (A lot of people buy into food trucks and lose their shirts too.)

      • torontothegreat

        Capitalists that hate capitalism…

        • OgtheDim

          We don’t have a free market.

          The suggestion was a complete free for all.

          No thanks.

          • torontothegreat


    • Ratdog

      Don’t get me wrong, I love food trucks (lookin’ at you Buster’s Sea Cove), however brick and mortar restaurant owners face considerably higher costs for a number of reasons:

      1. Restaurants lease (pay rent) or own their building (pay taxes), they also require a business license from the City. The cost of buying or leasing a food truck is much less than a restaurant. Restaurant and food truck owners pay the same rate of tax on income.

      2. Restaurants compete for prime real estate locations which are limited by zoning regulations, the cost of rent, and market factors. Food trucks compete for prime parking spaces in key neighborhoods, but the difference in the cost of on-street parking due to its location/surrounding uses is insignificant compared to real estate.

      3. Restaurants are expected to be open year-round and have fixed, predictable hours. Food trucks can show up whenever, where ever and leave just as quickly. The extended hours of operation for restaurants adds to operating costs without necessarily increasing revenue.

      5. Restaurants are located in stationary locations. If business declines in one area the cost of relocating a food truck is little more than gas $ and the effort to find a new parking space. The cost of relocating a restaurant is significantly higher and much more difficult by comparison.

      6. Food trucks externalize many of their costs to others (i.e. seating, washrooms, garbage disposal, heating/air con., cleaning, etc.). Restaurants under the zoning by-law must have washroom facilities (unless only take-out), are limited to a maximum amount of seating, and where required must provide a minimum number of parking spaces.

      It’s understandable why food trucks are so popular and a growing trend with young entrepreneurs (it’s not because of the Food Network). It’s the lower barrier-to-entry costs compared starting up a restaurant. It all comes down to $$$.

      • torontothegreat

        1. Restaurants pay MONTHLY rent. The cost of a food truck is approximately 70k UPFRONT. Food trucks also pay municipal licensing costs. Also food trucks often pay up to 10k to be “allowed” to park somewhere (The EX & Indy – I’m looking at you!). In cases such as Pride, they often pay to “apply” to be at a location with a NON-REFUNDABLE application payment, which can easily run to 5k.

        2. Food trucks could easily pay a premium to be in “key neighbourhoods” – this is something the city should look at.

        3. There are many restaurants that are not open year-round, however I digress. The argument here is a non sequitur because if food trucks were allowed in the city, they wouldn’t have to show up whenever, wherever and leave quickly. The food trucks at Nathan Phillips (and street food vendors in general) are open longer than most restaurants in the city, so I’m not sure what you’re trying to say about that.

        4. This point really seems like nitpicking. Why is business declining for the restaurant? Why can’t food trucks be “pinned” to a single location (outside of festivals, etc) like buskers?

        5. Food trucks ARE take-out (you can’t have it both ways) so they are not required to have virtually anything you’ve mentioned. A complete non-point.

        I really think you should look into the costs associated with a food truck. They are expensive and require a ton of maintenance (while most restaurants DON’T). Also, because of their limited physical space, most food truck owners are also limited to the choice you could get at a bricks & mortar restaurant, meaning there is more pressure to have a great offering with only a few items.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        1. The cost of buying, converting, maintaining, licensing, and operating a food truck may be less than the fixed costs many restaurants face, but food trucks also have a much harder time recouping those expenses – they aren’t able to stay open 12 hours a day and serve hundreds of people an hour because they simply do not have the refrigeration/freezer space to hold enough food for that length of service. A few can, but they have off-vehicle sites and vehicles to store and resupply them, both of which are added expenses.

        One of the trucks pictured above – El Gastronomo Vagabundo – has declined to renew their Toronto operating license simply because they weren’t making enough money here to justify the cost of driving up from St Catharines, getting a municipal license for Toronto, and then paying location or vendor fees.

        2. There isn’t nearly as much competition, of either variety, as you think.

        3. Restaurants set their hours and seasonal operations according to whatever they want – plenty aren’t open on Mondays, or don’t have a lunch service, or close/close early for holidays. And their kitchens generally close 3-4 hours before the doors shut. Food trucks go where the business is, but once they find a reliable location they tend to keep it. A truck may not be at the same spot every day of the week because it has 4-5 spots in rotation.

        “5.” Life isn’t fair. Your home is in a stationary location and property values could plummet (selling below what you paid for it) or skyrocket (your taxes increase beyond what you can afford) or new developments could block your view or change the character of the neighbourhood. Should renters be punished for not having to deal with the same problems?

        “6.” If seating, garbage disposal, or other amenities or services are available to the food truck, chances are they are paying the owner/operator of those amenties for their useage, or it’s considered a trade for the added traffic the truck brings to the location.

  • TristanTerrific

    I wish we had more food trucks around.