Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Food for Thought: City of Montreal Public Consultation on Street Food

If you have been reading our last few posts you know that the City of Montreal is having, besides corruption scandals, a public commission on street food. The commission is asking the question should Montreal allow the sale of food on its public spaces? If yes, then under what conditions. 

Please click here for out tasting notes on MTL's Food Trucks.

We are of course very interested in Wednesday's (November 28, 2012) afternoon session because the Association des Restaurateurs du Québec (ARQ) tweeted they would be submitting their "mémoire" or record to the commission. From what we understand the association is not too warm to the idea but we will have to wait and see. We expect the Association des Restaurateurs de Rue du Québec (ARRQ - the QC Street Food Association) to present soon because the consultations end this Thursday (November 29, 2012).

November 21, 2012, was the first opportunity for the public to submit "mémoires" (records) to the commission. The following are some of the ideas, comments, concerns and recommendations presented to the commission during the last two meetings.

Jean Lefebvre, QC Vice-President, from the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association better known locally as the Conseil des chaînes de restaurants du Québec presented on behalf of the association.

After consulting with their members in Canada the group is divided, 50% are against street food in Montreal, with the other 50% interested in the idea but under certain guidelines. The association represents chain restaurants like St-Hubert, La Cage au Sports, Subway, A&W, Chez Cora as well as 2000 independent members.
Lefebvre even mentioned that some members in his group were interested in perhaps having their own food carts or trucks. Street food represents potential growth to the restaurant industry so difficult for this organization to object to the idea. The association wants the rules and regulations that apply to restaurants (health codes, taxes, POS, etc.) to be the same for street food vendors. Lefebvre said that with proper rules and regulations a “level playing field” could be created between street food vendors and restaurants. The association also recommended that street food vendors keep a distance of 60 meters from an existing brick and mortar restaurant.

Paul Holder, restaurateur from Café du Nouveau Monde. Due to the location of his restaurant, Holder experienced firsthand the Just for Laughs Souk outdoor Food Fest this summer. Holder reported that food trucks were set up on Sainte-Catherine Street in a “effroyable” (horrifying) manner. It is unacceptable that trucks were allowed to set up in front of existing restaurants with terraces at Complexe Desjardins (Café Dépôt, St-Hubert etc).
These businesses had a backend view of the trucks and festival site with food truck chimneys, noise (example: generators) and bad smells. Holder feels that the 60 metre rule is not sufficient enough in protecting existing businesses because it still means blocking business facades. Rules need to be implemented so that business owners' storefronts are protected from obstruction. 

Gaufrabec is a Montreal food truck run by Anissa Benomar. The operation specializes in Belgian waffles and is a member of the ARRQ. They have a boutique located at 2005 St-Denis and offer quality food made from local ingredients at an affordable price. Benomar identified locations where street food vendors could set up because there is a demand for good quality alternatives in these certain given what is currently available. These locations include, industrial Parks, old age / retirement homes, schools, CEGEP’s, Universities, residential neighborhoods, suburbs and big box stores, (examples: RONA, Costco, Canadian Tire) where people go to shop but there are no food services being provided.

Tunc Dere, a downtown Dépanneur owner sees enough traffic violations and congestion and does not think that we should add to this situation by allowing food trucks in the downtown core. Dere also mentioned that he faces enough competition from the Red Bull and Monster truck (energy drinks) that in addition to blocking traffic, causing congestion give away the same products he sells for free.

Marc-André Lavergne, a Chef at Restaurant Accords in Old Montreal gave a passionate discourse endorsing street food in Montreal. In addition to benefiting the local population street food could attract tourists to our city and would contribute and enhance city’s character. There is a need to regulate the project to ensure quality and high standards are met while also offering people an original eating experience with food that is accessible to all.

Délices Roulants, presented a business plan for a mobile food cart operation. The plan indentifies 50 sites where they could set up without competing with brick and mortar restaurants and would serve such items as hot dogs, hamburgers and brochettes.

On November 26, 2012 the commission held their consultation session at City Hall in Lachine with only one person presenting a mémoire. Henri Chevalier, Directeur Générale, from the Corporation de Dévelopment Économique communautaire LaSalle-Lachine, presented a report that his neighborhoods could benefit from the presence of street food vendors. Chevalier sees this occasion as an opportunity. Food trucks could draw more people to Lachine /LaSalle and the waterfront. The Park des Rapides in LaSalle, for example, has very little in terms offering visitors any food services. According to chevalier there are only 2 restaurants on the LaSalle waterfront. The presence of these vendors could also help revitalize the former downtown commercial core of Lachine.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Street Food à La Montréalaise

The City of Montreal's permanent commission sur le développement économique et urbain et l'habitation was mandated in June 2012 to study the sale of food in our public spaces (a.k.a. the sale of street food and food trucks). The commission presented their report on October 29, 2012 at City Hall in the first part of a series of public consultations. The report concludes with the questions: do we want street food in Montreal? If the answer is yesthen under what conditions?

For our tasting notes on MTL's Food Trucks click here.

For a copy of the City report and info on the next series of public consultations click here.

For our previous post on street food "The Montreal Public Street Food Consultation Primer" click here.

Muffin Man?
The commission's report acknowledges the North American street food trend pointing to such cities as Boston, Calgary and Vancouver who have only recently authorized the sale of street food. New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles play hosts tothe Vendy Awards a competition and fund raiser for street vendors. According to their website the food festival is:

an intense cook-off ... afestival of respect and gratitude for all vendors and everything they provide us the best sidewalk chefs vendors and everything they provide usfrom your morning coffee (half-and-half, two sugars) to the $2 umbrella when you get caught in the thunderstorm
Profits from the Vendy Awards go tothe Street Vendor Project that is "a membership-based non-profit organization that stands up for vendors rights."

How Other Cities Roll:

As Montreal considers its street food future and culture the report looks for inspiration from other urban eating experiences.

Vancouver's street food test-project started in 2010 with the issuing of 17 renewable permits. In 2012 this number increased to 103 permits. The cost of an annual permit in a park ranges from $5000 to$15 000 with street permits going for $1050. The Vancouver permits are issued by a selection committee (that includes bloggers...yes!) and makes sure certain requirements are met. The committee considers factors like menu, business plan,quality of food, cleanliness, appearance, accident insurance and hygiene. Rules governing the sale of street food state that units cannot be stationed lessthan 60 meters from a business offering similar items.

The Calgary food truck pilot project was launched in 2011 in collaboration with the an organization know as the Business Revitalization Zones (BRZ). According totheir website the BRZ is "a self-help program by which businesses in an area can jointly raise and administer funds to improve and promote their businesses."The annual cost of a permitis $646 dollars. The city determines "roll zones" and "no roll zones" in collaboration with the BRZ and a mobile food unit cannot occupy onespot for more than 4 hours.

Toronto launched their À la Cart project in 2009 issuing 8 permits. The following year 6 permits were granted with only 2 vendors finishing the season. According to the City of Montreal Commission factors contributing to the failure of the project included it being top heavy from the administrative level. It seems that there was little consultation between the admin. and street food merchants. The mobile units themselves were problematic; the design was heavy to move and required a towing vehicle resulting in additional costs to vendors. The food carts were designated to areas that were not easily accessible and visible to pedestrian traffic. A work group was implemented in 2011 to re-examine the legislation governing street food.

Ottawa iscurrently reviewing the issuing of their permits. Due to a moratorium on the issuing of new permits the number has decreased from 100 to 32 over the past twenty years. In addition to the monetary value of a permit current consideration include looking at the diversity of foods being offered, nutritional value, commercial competition, and co-existence.

Boston has identified 21 sites for vendors that operate with fixed schedules for vendors. New York holds reoccurring events in parks (once a month) so thatcitizens take advantage and use their parks. Portland uses vacant lots to revitalize sectors and neighborhoods creating street food boroughs.

Street Food Chez Nous:

The report gives a brief history of street food in Montreal - we were surprised to learn that the prohibition against street food in 1947 and not 1967 as we previously heard. According to newspapers from this time the prohibition had to do with quality control of food, the blocking of public arteries, competition and sanitary conditions. In 1997, after a public study, the City of Montreal Commission of Finance and Economic Development restated the prohibition of selling ice cream on public spaces primarily because of competition and the extra costs associated withthe use of public spaces (example: garbage).

In 2002 a public study from a municipal consulting committee from Ville-Marie recommended the prohibition against selling food in public spaces but to allow permanent installations in 4 parks. In 2003 the municipal riding of Verdun adopted aruling allowing the sale of street food.

Despite rulings against street food there have been some recent street food events in Montreal thanks to the pioneering efforts of the Grumman'78 truck and crew and other organizations. The Food Lab market from the Société des Arts Technologiques at the Place de Paix. The Souk Gastronomiqueas part of the Just for Laughs Fest site. The first Friday of every month at the Olympic esplanade. The culinary pop up at parc Émilie-Gamelin. The Mucvbox & Porchetta stands at the Old Port and Food trucks on the Lachine Canal because they are federal lands.

Laws that need to be taken in consideration in Montreal with regards to the sale of street food include peace and public order (example: crowds and noise) in public spaces and parks. Other considerations include noise, pollution (city rules against smoke emissions) security, accident protocols, food smells, parking blocking roads, signage etc.

Nouveau Palais Winneburger
Economic considerations include fiscal equality, it is important to guarantee equality between existing sedentary restaurants versus street food vendors. Note: it waspointed out at the consultation that the Association des Restaurateurs de Ruedu Québec (ARRQ) that all its members operate with production kitchens meaning that they pay property taxes. Concurrence, a balance has to be reached between what is being offered and the demand. Street Food can also be a way of encouraging entrepreneurship; people who cannot necessarily afford to open a restaurant can start their own business. Streetfood also provides an option for existing restaurant owners to diversify their business and gain visibility in new areas.

Looking at the street food experience in other cities gives us an idea of the possibilities in terms of the occupation of public spaces and how the permits are given. Some examples include permanent spaces, temporary and designated sites, public areas, predetermined routes, private lots vs. public parking, permits issued on an annual, seasonal, weekly and daily basis. The type of products sold: fruits and vegetables, pre-prepared food or cooked on the spot. Cleanliness, restaurant owners are responsible for managing the garbage they produce are factors that need to be taken in consideration with street food. Hygiene, food inspectors have been doing occasional spot checks on festival sites where street food is being sold. If street food is permitted then inspectors should have the right to inspect vehicles during operation and without notice.

Street Cred: 

Omnivore Host Sébastien Demorand loving his Nouveau Palais Winneburger
Since 2011 Tourisme Montréal, as part of their strategic marketing plan, has been promoting Montrealsrestaurants and gastronomy in the hopes of making our city a destination in the world food scene. We have seen some notable effects of these efforts with Anthony Bourdain's Layover and the Omnivore inaugural world tour (from France) making a stop in our city. According to the report, Montreal does have its own culinary style so if street food is permitted then it should reflect our citys unique character.

Food For Thought:

The report concludes with some considerations in determining our city’s street food policy. The ideas for reflection include fiscal equality with current business owners. Coexistence with citizens. Potential for entrepreneurs and businesses that are also part a sustainable development plan. Nutritional quality, creativity, variety and rotation of the food being offered. The effects on our urban landscape both positive and negative. That the system put into place, permits, health inspections etc, are easy to administer.