Food trucks to roll downtown

Pilot project will allow mobile food vendors to set up shop on city streets

Natalie Basile and Mikey Wheeler-Johnson operate the Italian style food truck Eats Amoré. Sean Brady/The Omega

Natalie Basile and Mikey Wheeler-Johnson operate the Italian style food truck Eats Amoré. Sean Brady/The Omega

The City of Kamloops has approved a pilot project that will allow food trucks to expand into the downtown area starting in mid-June.

Kamloops is currently home to five food trucks, and at least three local vendors were in attendance at the May 13 public hearing where city council unanimously approved the project.

The changes have been well-received by vendors, who will now be allowed to operate on the streets of downtown Kamloops from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on private property from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on any day of the week. Council also approved zoning changes and a new definition for food trucks.

“It was a unanimous decision, so you can’t really ask for more than that,” said Mikey Wheeler-Johnson, who co-operates the food truck Eats Amoré along with 2006 TRU graduate Natalie Basile.

“Before this definition and bylaw change, we were zoned the same as the guy up on Columbia that sells flags and blankets out of his vehicle. It was ‘sales from a mobile vehicle,’ not even mobile food concession,” Wheeler-Johnson said.

The new definition is only a part of the emergence of food trucks in Kamloops. During the public hearing, Kamloops Innovation Centre co-founder Jaethan Reichel compared food trucks to startups, saying how they’re just like small scale businesses, testing out ideas on a small scale before expanding.

“I’d like us to encourage these businesses in the same way that the city has encouraged the technology businesses that are here in town, that is, to take away the barriers that make it difficult for them to grow and prosper,” Reichel told city council.

Cat & Joe’s Pig Rig is one truck planning to make such an expansion. Cathy Obertowich (see story page 2) and Joe Thompson operate the truck and plan on starting a brick and mortar version also featuring their southern barbecue cuisine.

“I’d just like to get the food truck culture out there. It’s not your hot dog carts of 10 years ago. This is good, gourmet food,” Thompson said. “We’d just like to change peoples’ concepts of what a food truck is.”

Both vendors were consulted in a November meeting with the city, and following the city’s decision, both are looking forward to what the pilot project means.

Jordan Elliott and Joe Thompson of Cat & Joe's Pig Rig set up in Riverside Park on May 17, 2014. Sean Brady/The Omega

Jordan Elliott and Joe Thompson of Cat & Joe’s Pig Rig set up in Riverside Park on May 17, 2014. Sean Brady/The Omega

“It’s going to develop a sense of community between us all. The city wanted us to race to these spots, but we told them we’d rather approach it on a rotating basis so we all get equal exposure,” Wheeler-Johnson said. “Food trucks are their own kind of sub culture in the food world. We can create destinations now. We can create mobile food courts and take dead zones of downtown and inject some vitality in them.”

To inject that vitality, food trucks will be paying $15 per day to set up shop on downtown streets.

“This $15 per day is going to be just this year. I’ll guarantee you it’ll go up next year, which is fine as long as the numbers are there,” Thompson said.

“In my ideal world, I’d like to see the 6 p.m. time extended for a dinner rush, but I do understand the point of keeping the rush for restaurants downtown. It just means we’ll have to get creative and do other things.”

One of those other things is the Pig Rig’s expansion into Riverside Park, where it first appeared on May 17.

Both the City of Kamloops and vendors have approached prospective locations with caution, consulting the brick and mortar restaurant industry along the way, trying to place food trucks in visible yet underserved areas.

“They generate foot traffic, which is good for retail shops, which is good for everyone around… except other restaurants. That’s why we want to approach it with some ethics. We want to be a certain distance away, we’re not trying to steal everyone’s revenue,” Wheeler-Johnson said.

In Kelowna, food trucks are emerging somewhat more organically, but the city has been equally cautious with its implementation.

“We don’t want to create a new competitor for them. So we’ve kind of created very defined areas of where the food truck vendors or concessions are allowed to operate,” said City of Kelowna property officer John Saufferer.

Instead of charging vendors by the day, the City of Kelowna opens the allowed locations up for bids, and according to Saufferer, fees vary from $500 to $1000 per month.

“We don’t say that we expect X dollars for this location. It’s whatever the market bears. It varies significantly by location,” he said.

Saufferer also said that food trucks will be chosen based on merit, like food variety and healthfulness, rather than simply accepting the highest bid, noting that food trucks weren’t much of a revenue generator for the city.

“From our perspective it’s an attempt to animate the downtown, to create additional options for visitors to the city, to create a bit of an atmosphere on the sidewalks and in deader zones where there are fewer food options for people. We’re trying to create a lively downtown,” he said.