News / Calgary

Calgary restaurants fear 'negative effect' of food trucks

Some Calgary restaurants and industry representatives say they aren't ready to ring the dinner bell and signal a food truck free-for-all, amid fears the roadside eateries will take a big bite out of their business.

James Werner, general manager of the seven-month-old Yellow Door Bistro, said Wednesday he fears the rules being outlined in a "full service food vehicle" bylaw set to go before city committee next week are too lax, namely a provision that requires the trucks to be parked just 25 metres from a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

"I would say that distance is fairly close and it would have a negative effect on our business at the Yellow Door," Werner said.

He added that lunchtime is critical period for an upstart like Yellow Door, but it's also when food trucks stationed daily during the summer at nearby Central Memorial Park tend to do their business.

"I worked in downtown Calgary now for seven years and I've seen an explosion of new restaurants," Werner said. "So, the marketplace is already a little bit over-flooded . . . everybody's kind of fighting over a small pie."

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, meanwhile, sees no issue with the distance restriction put on food trucks,  but plans to make the case to aldermen debating the bylaw next Friday for a cap on licences issued to the wheeled establishments.

Mark von Schellwitz, the association's vice-president for Western Canada, said the city should conduct an annual analysis of the impact on standard restaurants, which he described as the "backbone" of many communities, before freeing up additional licenses.

He pointed to higher staffing, infrastructure and taxation costs incurred by standard restaurants as proof, "It's not a really a level playing field."

"Certainly you could understand where (an owner) would be concerned and why there's a fairness issue there," he added.

The CRFA conducted a nationwide survey last year of its members and found 40 per cent of respondents were worried food trucks would have a negative impact on their business.

But James Boettcher, head of YYC Food Trucks, said he finds the concept of a cap "pretty crazy."

"There's no other industry where there's a cap on how many (establishments) can be there . . . I think it's not the right approach," he said, before adding, "I really hope that the city will make the right decisions that aren't just based on public feedback and also realize that people who own food trucks need to have a sustainable business as well."

Currently, Calgary  has 45 registered food trucks as it reaches the tail-end of a two-year pilot project.

Boettcher conceded a few food truck owners did not buy into the "community concept," early on,  but said by and large he believes businesses like his bring people into communities.

"I think anyone who believes we're hurting their business would be hard-pressed to find proof," he said.

Boettcher pointed out there are already "no-roll zones" in certain areas of the city – Marda Loop, Kensington and 17th Avenue.

Kent Pallister, city chief licence inspector, said there was a "food truck euphoria" early on but then some complaints did begin to roll in from the owners of more traditional establishments. Still, he said his department is not in a position to restrict the number of trucks.

"Our approach in (the) business licence (area) isn't to cap anything, it's to let the market dictate who's doing to do well and who's not," he said.

More on