By Jay Menard
With the way the food truck debate in London has gone on, I’m surprised to find these vehicles still have wheels.
After all, there seems to be little interest amongst many of the proponents in seeing them go anywhere but downtown.
If you listen to the debates, explore the distances and limits discussed, and hear the concerns, it’s all from those in the downtown. But what’s missing — as it usually is in London debates — is the awareness that there’s a city beyond the core.
And there’s a consumer base that would love to support food trucks on a regular basis.
I work downtown and live downtown. I can assure you there is no lack of dining options available to me during the day or night. As much as I support the concept of food trucks, I don’t really think they’re needed downtown. If they’re there, they’re there — but it’s not like it’s going to bring new money to the area.
In fact, I can sympathize with existing businesses. I don’t think food trucks will put them out of business, but I certainly understand that there are only so many dollars to go around. Food trucks won’t see more people spend more money, but rather will likely just see existing dollars repurposed from those who are already spending downtown.
It’s odd, though, that the criticism levied against core restaurants who speak out against this idea centres around, “Hey, it’s survival of the fittest. If your restaurant can’t compete with a food truck, it’s unfortunate, but it’s what it is” or “I wouldn’t want to eat at restaurant that can’t compete…”
It seems counterintuitive that for a city that’s so desperate to be seen as business friendly that these concerns are dismissed outright. Or maybe we just want to be “new” business friendly. After all, even if it’s only a handful of core restaurants that are concerned, we certainly have established a low threshold for public consultation leading to forward momentum (see ReThink — with its roughly 3-4 per cent public participation — again, that’s generous considering multiple people participated multiple times and were counted.) The fact is that these businesses should be listened to — if only to address concerns and alleviate misconceptions. Maybe they’re right and the market can’t support it.
But I know where there’s a market that might be able to.
What’s also missing here is an appreciation that there’s a city beyond the Wellington/Ridout/Oxford/York borders. And they’re the ones who can sustain and create that market.
I’ve lived in the suburbs and worked in some of the farthest reaches of the city in predominantly industrial/office lands — Exeter and White Oak Road; Clarke Side Road and Oxford. And for employees in those environment, there’s nothing there.
Almost literally nothing.
And I was lucky to have a car so I could drive somewhere if I wanted. If you’re taking the bus — and I’m pretty sure the party line is that we’re supposed to support that — you’re stuck either brown-bagging it or, if you’re lucky, accessing an office cafeteria.
A rotation of food trucks at those locations would be able to mine gold from employees starved for options.
Companies like 3M, General Dynamics, Dr. Oetker; educational facilities like Western and Fanshawe — those are just a handful where new options would be welcome.
Downtown, I can walk to dozens of restaurants of every type in under five minutes. In some places you can walk a half hour before stumbling across a variety store.
Not to mention that there’s already a system in place that seems to be working well with food trucks allowed on private land. Heck, we have local companies hosting food trucks in the core and areas adjacent to it. The greatest need is not downtown, but it requires people expanding their horizons a little to see that.
So if you ask me do I support the concept of food trucks, the answer is yes. I’ve shared my feelings with my Ward representative and a couple of others who asked for feedback. In the end, I don’t think food trucks are going the be-all and end-all of London. Nor do I think it’s a panacea that is going to solve London’s ills.
In fact, I think it’s just low-hanging fruit that will make people feel that something progressive is happening in London when it’s just much ado about nothing.
But if you wanted to suggest that food trucks didn’t need to be in the core, but could rotate and visit those under-serviced areas of the city in the north, south, east, and west, then I’m behind it fully. It’s just a thought to chew on.
After all, these trucks have wheels. Perhaps the focus should be on using them.