For information on starting your own food truck, check out our step-by-step guide here.
Food trucks and street food in general has exploded in popularity recently giving rise to a thriving food truck scene south of the border and TV shows dedicated to street food, such as the Food Network’s Eat St.
But what about Toronto?
Over the last year, Toronto has seen a handful of new gourmet food trucks emerge with a bunch more set to launch in 2012. But the current by-laws in Toronto that govern food trucks are complicated.
The goal of this resource is to explain the current situation and provide a clear, step-by-step explanation on where trucks can vend and what they can serve.
Where Can Food Trucks Vend in Toronto?
There are a number of factors that come into play that determine where food trucks are allowed to stop and vend in Toronto.
Only the former City of Toronto allows trucks to vend from the curbside, and even then trucks need a Designated Vending Area permit. A truck can only hold one permit at a time, so going from curbside to curbside isn’t allowed.
In addition, there’s a moratorium on Designated Vending Area permits in the downtown core (Bathurst Street to the west, Eglinton Avenue to the north and the Don River to the east).
In other words, as things stand right now, new food trucks have no chance of vending from the curbside in the downtown core.
The other option is to vend on private property (such as parking lots), and in this case the truck owner needs permission from the property owner and the property has to be zoned for commercial activity. The truck also needs to comply with the property’s fire regulations, so finding a logical place to park is important.
The rules for vending on private property are the same across the Greater Toronto Area, the former City of Toronto and the downtown core – however, the zoning differs across each area so it’s best to check with the city on a site by site basis to make sure the property is zoned appropriately.
So what about those trucks you see operating at the curbside in the downtown core at places like City Hall? Why are they allowed to vend there?
Those are existing food trucks that received Designated Vending Area permits before the moratorium. They are only permitted to vend at that specific location which is also a designated street vending area, and that’s the only public property they can operate on.
What Kind of Food Can Food Trucks Serve?
If there’s one positive when it comes to Toronto’s food truck rules and regulations it’s regarding menus. As far as Toronto Public Health is concerned a food truck is basically a restaurant on wheels. That means they are legally allowed to serve anything a restaurant can and do not face the same menu restrictions as food carts.
Then why do so many of the existing trucks only sell hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and poutine?
Good question. They don’t have to and are free to expand their menus at any time.
We wish they would.
A La Cart Program (Cancelled)
The City’s ‘A La Cart’ street food program was started in 2009 with the intention of creating expanded street food options that better reflected the City’s multicultural makeup. The project was viewed largely as a failure after seven of the eight original pilot vendors decided not to renew their contracts with the City in 2010.
The problems stemmed from vendors being required to purchase a particular cart designed for the program that cost $31,000. In addition, vendors cited prohibitive location fees and overly-tough health regulations as factors making it difficult to run a successful business within the confines of the program.
At its May 2011 meeting, Toronto City Council decided to discontinue the Toronto A La Cart Street Food Pilot Project immediately, before what would have been the third season of the pilot project. As a result, established A La Cart vendors had the option of continuing to operate at their current locations.
These recommendations by Council stemmed from a consultants report on the A La Cart program that was submitted to the City in April 2011.
A staff working group was formed in May 2011 to review Toronto’s street food vending, with the objective of permitting licensed food vendors to offer a wider range of food items. They are scheduled to report back to City Council sometime in the fourth quarter of 2011.
The working group is made up of the following people:
Chair – Executive Director of Municipal Licensing & Standards or designate
- Economic Development & Culture- Public Health
- Transportation Services
- Street Food Vendors Association
- A La Cart Street Food Pilot Project participant
- Planning Division, Public Realm Office
- Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas
Join the Fight for Real Street Food
The good folks over at El Gastrónomo Vagabundo are fighting the good fight to bring you healthy and delicious street food – and we want to help.
Help them and other vendors feed you by signing their petition for street vendor permits in Ontario, and lend your voice to the cause!
Photo Credit: PinkMoose