16 restaurant owners in Vancouver have signed a letter to Mayor Gregor Robertson claiming that food carts are cutting into their revenue. While I have not read the actual letter, a summary of the situation was made available in the Business in Vancouver publication.
The article states that counter service restaurants such as the Pita Pit are seeing a large dip in their sales on account of food carts. Here is what I have to say in response:
REGARDING ILLEGAL OPERATIONS:
1. A Hot Dog vendor operating illegaly at 4am should not be associated with the “new wave” of food carts that have hit the streets. Please show me some evidence of food vendors, who have been granted licenses since the food cart pilot project of 2010, operating illegally and without regard for nearby businesses.
1. Thanks to the regulation of the program, mobile food vendors have a commitment to use some degree of local or organic/natural ingredients in their product. Often, this commitment leads to lower profit margins for the vendor. One would think these lower margins would be offset by the lower costs associated with mobile vending (see point 2).
2. It is not comparitively cheap to run a food cart business. In addition to the lower margins realized from our products, we face the following costs:
- - Commissary rent: $500 (trucks with kitchens)-$2000(carts that do prep offsite) per month
- - Parking spot at vending location: $500/month for trucks
- - Permit Fees: $1179/year
- - Parking spots for carts overnight: $200/month
- - Gas: $500+ per month
- - Propane: $300-$600 per month: This is more than a counter service restaurants average Fortis bill by quite a lot!
- - Insurance: $150-300 per month
- - Share of electricity at the commissary: $70/month
- - Addition labour costs of driving your kitchen from your vending site back to the commissary followed by washing, cleaning and prep. This is instead of being able to wash, clean and prep while open for business because there is not enough space in the carts to do so. There is approximately 1 hour on either side of operating hours involved in hitching, transporting the cart and washing the dishes. That’s if your commissary is near Downtown, and if your commissary is near downtown, you’re paying much higher rent.
- – Carts cost between $15,000 to $100,000. Mobile food cart businesses have to amortize these costs over time just like brick and mortar start up costs.
- – Pick up truck or cargo van to tow the trailer: $3000+ or $500/month to lease
3. It rains. Brick and mortar restaurants have roofs and seats. Every day that it rains, the brick and mortar counter service restaurants out-compete the food carts. Many carts shut down for the winter because it’s not profitable on a day to day basis, yet they are still paying many of the aforementioned costs of their business.
4. Our carts can (and often do) break down on the way to the vending location. Burst pipes in the winter, flat tires, generator repair and not to mention traffic jams all affect the ability of food carts to open on time, if at all, each day
5. Re-Up just opened a 900 square foot counter service restaurant in the New Westminster River Market. It IS comparatively cheaper to run than our food cart.
WHY DO WE DO IT?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining, whining or asking for special treatment. I love what I do.
Operating a food cart is demanding, the physical labour is punishing and the hours are longer than one would expect. We do it in a climate that is very different to L.A. and in a city that does not have the critical mass of consumers that New York does. We do it because we love the food that we make, we get to make our food from scratch and we see the project succeeding in the long term like in Portland and San Francisco.
Food carts are fun. Food cart pods are novel and communal. These things contribute to the better enjoyment of one’s city. There are definitely some kinks that need to be worked out with our city’s bureacracy, but I would argue that these are logistical issues with a new program, not illegal vending issues or issues of unfair competition. I urge everybody to look to the long term city plans before decrying the town’s food carts.
I applaud what the city has done with mobile food. The residents of Vancouver have embraced the program (see Tourism Vancouver’s Street Food City, the block parties at the Waldorf, the Georgia Straight’s Street Food Carnival). If larger businesses are seeing a downturn in their sales because consumers are opting for healthier, local, made from scratch cuisine, I say “Bring it on!”