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.

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