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Sunday, October 4, 2015

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Send in the food trucks

Tags: Business News
Zane Caplansky with his food truck, which he calls Thunderin’ Thelma. [Charles Leonio/letravelist.com photo]

Coun. Josh Colle wants to see a Tov-Li food truck near Toronto’s Union station. Or a Dr. Laffa truck rolling down Bloor Street.

And King David’s pizza?

“I’d love for King David’s to do a truck,” said Colle, who’s no stranger to Jewish cuisine as the councillor for Eglinton-Lawrence, also known as Ward 15.

Colle, along with Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon, is behind a new two-month food truck trial program that started Aug. 1. The pilot will allow food trucks to operate out of five parks, although that number should grow to eight in a few weeks, according to the Ontario Food Truck Association.

This is a change from Toronto’s current bylaws, which many find frustrating and restrictive. Unlike other cities, Toronto food trucks can only operate on private property and at festivals, except for older trucks, which have benefited from a 2002 moratorium on licenses that allowed them to operate curbside on public property. Newer businesses haven’t been so lucky, which is where the pilot project comes in.

“There’s been challenges navigating the maze of red tape at city hall… this is a way to get something going,” Colle said, adding that letting food trucks onto the streets would increase Toronto’s foodie horizons, allowing Jewish cuisine to expand past its North York sweet spot.

Zane Caplansky isn’t convinced. Caplansky is the owner of Caplansky’s Delicatessen on College Street, as well as a food truck nicknamed Thundering Thelma.

“Parks, last time I checked, aren’t the same as streets. I’m not sure why the city thinks putting trucks in parks is a helpful alternative,” he said.

Caplansky doesn’t like that trucks are only allowed on the periphery rather than the heart of the city.

“People who eat out of our trucks like to find us on the street… Everyone keeps saying it’s the first step. I don’t really get it.”

Colle hopes that a municipal report due out next spring will help owners like Caplansky get what they want. The report will look at “systematic changes to how street food operators conduct business in Toronto,” Colle said, adding it may lead to bylaw changes that make it easier for vendors to operate.

Suresh Doss, co-founder of the Ontario Food Truck Association and co-ordinator of the pilot project, has high hopes for that report, which will include input from the pilot project.

“The one misconception about the pilot project is people are thinking choosing parks defeats the purpose. I just want to emphasize… [the trucks] are easy to find. They’re as close to curbside as possible,” Doss said, adding that he expects the project to expand to about 30 trucks soon.

There has been opposition to expanding food trucks. Some restaurants, for example, have raised concerns that food trucks would mean unfair competition.

But Tov-Li’s Miriam Epstein isn’t worried.

“It’s not competition,” Epstein said about food trucks serving Jewish cuisine. “We’re in a different market. We’re strictly kosher… to run a business like we run… I don’t think they can compete.”

Still Epstein likes the idea.

“To be in parks on the odd day, yeah, that could be a good thing. It’s fun,” she said.

Asked whether Jewish-style cuisine, kosher or not, can compete with other food trucks, Caplansky is confident.

“How can’t we compete? While it’s Jewish food, it’s not just for Jews,” he said. “Who doesn’t love a good smoked meat sandwich?”

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