How City Hall Screwed Up Their Own Street Food Pilot Project

3395772747_e5543f3c30_bphoto: SteffanyF

When City Hall announced that it was going to overhaul its position on mobile street food vendors (previously: “we only want it if it sucks”), I was really excited. Finally, just maybe, we’d start inching toward a town like Portland, a paradise of food trucks serving a wild array of culturally diverse dishes from the curb.

Several local restaurateurs and chefs geared up to meet the new challenge (I naturally grew hungry) but when the City explained that vendors for their summer pilot project would be decided by lottery, my enthusiasm was replaced with fear and dread.

While I’m glad the city recognised that they were unqualified to choose which food businesses would suit our streets best (their track record on this is pretty bad), they could have just asked around, perhaps even called in a couple of independent consultants who knew a thing or two about food. Better yet, they could have actually interviewed the applicants to discern whether or not they were serious. I certainly would have advised them to the best of my ability for free, as would (I’m sure) other local food writers, chefs’ associations and so on…but no. In an effort to be democratic (which can be interpreted as ‘blameless’), they basically drew names from a bingo barrel as if the vendors would be selling scarves, toques and glow sticks. This, according to Grant Woff, acting manager of street administration, was “the fairest method as everyone was given the same odds”.

Big mistake.

What they overlooked – recklessly in my view – was this: in food there are good operators and bad ones, those with experience and those with none. This fact should have been taken into consideration first and foremost, but it wasn’t. The City should have determined, on a case by case basis, which were the best applicants that would give Vancouver – to use the Mayor’s own words – “a world-class street food scene”. As a consequence of this error, the list of the 17 winning vendors-to-be is nothing if not wholly underwhelming.

Let’s see what we have…(“W” stands for Winner, “A” for Alternate)

East Side of 200 Howe St – 100 metres North of W Cordova St
(W) Wong, To Choi – Chinese Dim Sum
(A) Simkin, Karen

South Side of 400 W Georgia St – 12 metres East of Richards St
(W) Lee, Yong Sook – Korean food with meat and vegetarian options
(A) Emmott, Jenny

North Side of 700 W Cordova St – 14 metres East of Howe St
(W) Revuelta Cue, Arturo – Burritos, whole wheat, rice, beans, sauces, fillings
(A) Dhanoa, Bobby

East Side of 700 Homer St – 20 metres South of W Georgia St
(W) Yong, Ming Cheak – chicken salad with lettuce, tomato. Fruit cup with melon, kiwi and mixed fruit.
(A) Liu, Hang

East Side of 700 Hornby St – 22 metres South of W Georgia St
(W) Kaisaris, Michael – Southern BBQ, Rice, Veggies
(A) Te, Richard

South Side of 700 W Georgia St – 20 metres West of Granville St
(W) Li, Hongyu – Traditional Chinese and Japanese Cuisine
(A) Te, Maria

South Side of 900 W Hastings St – 24 metres East of Burrard St
(W) Fang, Emily – Skewers of beef and pork
(A) Chow, Benson

West Side of 1100 Burrard St – 28 metres South of Helmcken St
(W) Samaei Motlag, Babak – Greek Donair
(A) Jalalzada, Mohammad

West Side of 1100 Burrard St – 25 metres North of Davie St
(W) Yeo, Allan – Modern Satay Barbeque
(A) Thomas, Regina

South Side of 2000 Beach Av – 30 metres West of Chilco St
(W) Zhao, Mei Liing – Fresh squeezed Lemonade
(A) Rowles, Sharon

East Side of 600 Granville St – 50 metres North of W Georgia St
(W) Ip, Derek – Fresh Bakery
(A) Horsley, Melissa

West Side of 600 Granville St – 95 metres North of W Georgia St
(W) Rodgers, Katie – Healthy meals & snacks, roll ups, sandwiches
(A) Kirpik, Berkan

East Side of 6400 Cambie St – 20 metres North of W 49th Ave
(W) Yien, Alan – speciality noodles
(A), Rieche, Fraser

East Side of 1300 Main St – 12 metres North of Terminal Ave
(W) St. Denis, Jean Francois – Falafel
(A) Lurtz, Cedric

West Side of 1100 Station St, or West Side of 400 Burrard St
(W) Morra, Giorgio – Authentic Italian stone ground pizza
(A) Charach, Michael

West Side of 1200-1300 Arbutus St, or North Side of 1000 W Georgia St
(W) Duprey, David – Fresh & frozen fruits, chocolate dipped fruits
(A) Chan, Calvin

West Side of 1400 NW Marine Dr, or East Side of 800 Hornby St
(W) Kosmowski, Roman – Central European foods from Poland, Russia, using local organic products, borscht, schnitzel, kosher
(A) Edra, Imee

Hurray for us, right? Who doesn’t like dim sum, burritos, southern BBQ and Korean food? But what’s this about lemonade and chocolate dipped fruit? And what the heck constitutes “speciality noodles” ? How is stone ground pizza served from a truck “authentic” if it isn’t baked in a wood-burning oven? Can you elaborate on “skewers of beef and pork”? Who mixes Japanese and Chinese food and has the balls to say it’s “traditional”? This is exactly the sort of vaguery I was afraid of, and nowhere near as “new and exciting” as City Hall described in their media mail out today. Did we really wait all this time for chicken salad and fruit cups? What if none of it is any good? What happens to the pilot project if those who’ve been chosen abjectly fail to table good, consistent products?

There were about 800 applications for the available spaces, and there were some real gems in the bunch from tried-and-true operators, real talents with solid track records for serving quality food. Yet not a single one – as far as I can tell – cracked the list. So now the success or failure of the pilot project rests with these start-ups, companies that – to my knowledge – have little restaurant or food service experience (I suspect some have none at all). You’d think the City would have thought of that and actively sought to avoid such a scenario. Instead, they relied on a revolving plexiglass barrel filled with applicant’s names. Perhaps the psychic octopus was too busy…

As you can probably tell, I think the process was deeply flawed from the get go. All anyone needed to apply was $50 and a valid driver’s license, prerequisites that – to me at least – don’t exactly scream a guarantee of quality. And how about that timeline? The winners are required to be operational in just 22 days! In that span they’ll need to be Coastal Health approved (always fun), have a base of operations, and be ready for volume on opening day. How many of these unknowns do you think will be ready? I’d wager no more than 10. Of those 10, how many will be any good? I hate to sound pessimistic, but I’ll call it as 2 or 3, tops. I hope I’m wrong – that we get lucky – but that’s exactly the problem. This shouldn’t have been decided by luck, and it’s patently ridiculous that it was.

If any of the 17 aren’t ready, their good fortune falls to the mysterious “alternates”: concepts that are as yet unknown to the public. And what if they aren’t ready? Ah, there is no plan for that. Great. Maybe the Mayor can bring out his magic bingo machine again. Perhaps one of the applicants that has already invested thousands into their concept and are pretty much a sure thing (as far as quality is concerned) will have a chance, if indeed chance – this time – is on their side. If not? I assume we’ll see more chocolate fruit. Outstanding.

Due to City Hall’s lack of vision here (don’t get me wrong – I do applaud their enthusiasm), I can’t help but treat it as a balls-up. Using their method, we could have landed 17 falafel joints had the barrel been particularly unkind (thankfully, we got just one). It was about as well thought out as every other food and beverage plan that City Hall has touched in the past (which is to say diseased and rotten). Again, if they wanted to be democratic about it, they could have allowed a primary first, if only to separate the wheat from the chaff.

It was my understanding that this entire enterprise was an effort to better our food scene. If that was indeed the case, then the City has once again failed its diners through either oversight or undersight, incompetence or ignorance.

From the City trumpet today:

“The enthusiasm of Vancouver’s small businesses and the public interest in the expanded street-food program has been overwhelming,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said. “The popularity of this is a clear indication that people want to see a wide range of food on our streets and they want the offerings to reflect the cuisine of our culturally diverse city. We’ve got a world-class city and people want a world-class street food scene to match.”

We still do. Please call us when it’s ready, your Excellency.

There are 75 comments

  1. Excellent article. Well stated.
    Cross our fingers, but as you said, why is it that we are needing to cross these hungry little digits of ours?

  2. I hope the project is a great success even though the city totally screwed things up.I will refrain from further comment until mid August after I have tasted the vendors food.

  3. It does seem like the city wants this experiment to fail, or at least put the least amount of money towards the process.

  4. Dear Andrew,

    Thank you for putting all of my frustrations into one article. My business partner and I have been working on a taco wagon for over a year now. Blood, sweat, tears, $ and much of our sanity has gone into it. We have invested everything, and today’s lottery was such a sham. It was a Legion meat draw (minus the hope of a pot roast). It was insulting. Why not do interviews? Half of the applicants had no idea what they would do had they won. Who wants lemonade in December? Fruit on a stick? I would also like to know what the city is going to do with the $40,000 plus in application fees that they collected (NON-REFUNDABLE).Trips to Hawaii? New pantsuits? A better bingo machine?

    Seriously, I can’t believe that this is the best effort our city could put forth. There were at least 6 mid-level city workers (who make 80-200k p/yr.) in charge of this project. You would think that half a million dollars of taxpayer brain power could come up with something a bit better than bingo. It was a slap in the face.

    Thanks again for voicing our utter disappointment,

    Jennifer Willoughby
    Off the Wagon Travelling Tacos

  5. I couldn’t agree more…
    some people are serious about the business in other hand some other ignorant people only see it as investments… I was hoping for the turn of Vancouver street food other than what we have now… but yeah it had to be fair and square thing let’s do lottery who cares about their business plan as long as we get to keep 40k for city hall thats all it matters… well guess what people are not getting a healthy food instead they will just have another junk food or somethingelse… who knows…

  6. I imagine what *should* have been done is to designate a weekend at some park or location, have all the applicants come in for the one weekend, and make it a public food festival.

    Have the public and professional food critics provide input into the best. Either through ballots, or simple total-value-of-food-served, or a combination.

    Use this to narrow down the field of 800 to 50 and then assign the winners and alternates from those.

    Actually this could be fun annual event, like the Bite of Vancouver, but so much bigger.

  7. “World class face-palm”

    You would think that the city officials with those handsome, tax sucking paychecks would know a thing or two about good food?

  8. I agree with Min. An outdoor public tasting would have been a great civic event – fun for the families and a true competition to find the best street vendors.

  9. Stay positive, everyone. This was never going to be an easy process and some frustration was inevitable. There’s much to stay excited about. Good food will be on Vancouver streets soon, and with it, inspiration. The private property portion of the program will be up and running by September, allowing vendors to bypass lotteries, move locations, set up furniture, have on-site utilities, etc.

    Change may not be swift but there are great things to come.

  10. I really appreciate this perspective. While I’m excited about having new options for street food and I applaud the city’s efforts in encouraging an initiative that will contribute to food culture and downtown vibrancy, it does seem like a lost opportunity. I hope the city will hear the criticisms around its approach this time and allow Vancouver’s passionate food community to have a voice in the decision as the program develops.

    Love your work, Andrew – thanks for this piece!

  11. Methinks you doth protest too much. I see nothing whatsoever to indicate these random choices will be the failing of a pilot project; the implication you are making is that all these random winners, who are not up to snuff in your opinion will spell doom for the pilot project. Really? Certainly there are licensing concerns and any number of policy screw-ups that can still be made, but this is still an overall huge net benefit, and just a starting point.

    I have next to zero food sophistication. Some examples of the fabulous operators you feel received short shrift for not getting preferred status who be much appreciated.

    Why would the course of the pilot project be anything other than either the individual winning licensees are successful in a marketplace everyone agrees there is demand for, or they fail for whatever reason and another operator moves in to try their hand?

  12. This was a fail because City Hall has no experience other than giving out hot dog permits.

    This should have been approached like a job interview and the best applicants won, not a lottery.

    That being said, we should wait and see if some of the winners actually have the vision to turn in a winning product. Just because they are not a “name” operator, does not mean the product will be shit.

    I have to say that the $43,000.00 fee for displacing a parking stall is a pile of BS. The City converts parking stalls into commercial, taxi stand, passenger zone etc all the time. If this was a pilot project, that fee should be waived for a trial period to the vendor who invested $$$$ in a mobile kitchen / restaurant. If they were seriously looking for this project to be a success, more thought and effort should have gone into it instead of the rush job they did.

    This is a classic case of the pencil stirring the soup. ( the bean counters running the show )

  13. I could not agree with you more. The whole process was ill-conceived and badly executed. Like you, I fail to see how this batch of vendors will in any way further the cause of establishing a vibrant street food secene. I was at the Richmond Night Market last night – there is a very vibrant food hawker scene and it is broadening its scope to encompass vendors others than those offering Asian food. Roamin’ Dragon was there. Such a pity that a place of that calibre lost out because of a lottery.

  14. I’m not really sure what the crux of the criticism is: they didn’t ask the right people, they didn’t vet the quality, and next year when it’s not done by lottery it will be some other complaint. The city tried something, why not try some of these to see how they actually taste – you know, the food part – and then register an opinion. To say it’s a failure before one of the new stands hits the street doesn’t even give it a chance.

  15. You peolpe are a bunch of cry babies. A bunch of armchair quarterbacks who think they can do better. To me it looks like there is a good mix and variety of food items. And really what top notch chef runs a vending cart…please.

  16. Hi Todd,

    Very fair point. Though I haven’t tasted any of the winners’ fare yet, I think it’s fair to say that those people who lobbied hard for this change weren’t doing so to be rewarded with lemonade stands and chocolate dipped fruit. I’m sure the winners are all fantastic people, but after waiting so long it would have been nice to see at least some invention and inspiration in the pilot project to guarantee its success, rather than fairground fast food. The City should have interviewed the applicants and sought to discover who was ready for prime time. While I applaud the Mayor’s enthusiasm and his team’s yen for a transparently democratic process, all chefs and their dishes – as I’m sure most would agree – are not created equal. They could have and should have taken more time to discern which players had game and which ones didn’t, because when I look at this list, with its chicken salads and satays, I just can’t help but think that we deserved much better.

  17. It’s not the most experimental menu in the world, I’ll definitely agree there, but sometimes a lemonade is all one really wants. I usually get one at the PNE and it’s not bad at all. I guess I’m saying it can’t all be high concept, and that sometimes street food is just street food.

    Anyway, if we think about 800 applicants and the city well into the summer season now, a real review where we did get some vetting around quality doesn’t seem viable before fall, just in time for the rainy season. This was a push to get something going. The food is not all created equal, and maybe the best thing for patrons to do with these new places is to a) vote with their return visit dollar and b) send feedback to city hall if something is truly awful. As the start of a longer term change for the food scene in the city, we’ll need a few rounds for this to really hit its stride.

  18. >rather than fairground fast food

    Mini-donuts would’ve been preferred over about half of the bingo ball winners listed here.

  19. PS. Nugent, your conviction aside, you’d be pleasantly surprised. There were at least five very capable chefs who were in the running.

  20. Hi again Todd. I love lemonade, but it can wait until the pilot project is over.

  21. I, for one, commend the city on taking a democratic approach to the process. All of this negative attitude towards the process just reeks of self-pity; it sounds like you’re angry because no one in your “foodie clique” won. Maybe we the public would prefer to have someone selling fresh lemonade rather than a fancy overpriced item you’re thinking of. Maybe “Joe” the dishwasher at Earls is a fantastic chef from Vietnam and got a lucky break winning a spot.

    I thought it seemed odd that people had invested with assumption they we’re going to have a shot without knowing what the rules would be. Would you invest in buying shovels/equipment to build a copper mine in a country that has no tradition of building mines?

    Seriously people, this whole process is a non-perfect step in the right direction (and much better than what Toronto did).

  22. i thought up the idea for a chocolate-dipped fruit skewer cart in 2003 while i was getting high a lot.

    glad to see it’s becoming a reality.

    haters to the left.

  23. Dan,

    “Fancy expensive”? How much do you think the lemonade will cost so the operator can recoup the exorbitant city fees? This a class or a clique thing, dude. It’s about due diligence, and not doing any.

  24. I’m pretty sure that Michael Kaisaris’ partner is BBQ pro and Canada’s first certified Cicerone, Chester Carey. This one in particular should be very exciting for the people of Vancouver.

  25. Heard the same, Jake. Excited about that one (in the post I said 2 or 3 would likely be good out of the 17, but I hope it’s higher!). Particularly stoked that it’s next to the Art Gallery.

  26. how does “fresh squeezed lemonade” even meet the criteria given that this project is for mobile street food vendors?

    p.s great article – i was pretty excited when this project was announced but now, not so much

  27. Without knowing what we know now, if someone said that one of the successful winners was a hot dog cart that sold a “japanese” style hot dog with chopped up seaweed and wasabi mayo, we would have had a good laugh.

    Now, Japadog is a shining beacon of what we want. Innovation, fast, affordable, accessable etc.

    Let’s wait and see.

    As for the Health issues that I see coming up everywhere ( Vancouver Sun etc. ) until I hear that the streets of Portland are littered with the corpses of people who ate from food carts, I think that little bit of hysteria can be put on hold.

    I had hoped for a taco truck, or something like the shrimp trucks in Hawaii.

    I will settle for a shot of vodka in my lemonade 🙂

  28. People will decide what works and what fails. Just like people do with restaurants. If there is a bad operator who fails to deliver the goods then they will not be around next year and some on else will get a shot. Mr Morison you have an amazing palate and are very well respected but how do you know that someone will fail until you give them a shot? i think that If it was up to a consultant like your self to choose who would win then the process could at the least be put into question and at worst become massively corrupt.

    For example I own a very successful restaurant here in Vancouver the narrow lounge. It’s a restaurant that you unfortunately didn’t like As per your negative review of us in last years west ender. I respect your option and was thankful you took the time to come down. We are packed every night and are getting more and more busy and selling more and more food every month. So people are enjoying them selves there. My restaurant my food and my cocktails are a success but according to who? my patrons yes but not you. Would that mean that I wouldn’t have been chosen for my spot selling chocolate dipped fruit on kits beach, to be clear they going to be chocolate dipped banana’s actually but what ever.

    I dont know the answer to this and I dont want to know. I am by no means questioning your ethics or your reputation but that I think is my point. How would we every know?

    There is way too much red tape at city hall as it is. What you propose would just create process, more time and more of all the stuff we dont need. This is a great step in the right direction for food and free enterprise in the city of Vancouver. Lets see how it works out before we knock it down.

    one my stand is up

  29. I didn’t think my review was all that unkind, and I’m glad to hear you’re packed. I’m not saying these places will fail. I’m sorry that you misunderstood. What I did say was that the City failed by implementing a flawed process. If I’m at fault for wanting more, I’m entirely comfortable with that.

    PS. For the record, I don’t do any sort of consulting, save for the occasional bit of unsolicited, pro bono opinion here and there.

  30. I’m on both sides here. On one hand, we should wait to give feedback on the quality of the vendors. On the other hand, why are we leaving it to chance when the city is basically giving away sidewalks ($1k/year for a sidewalk, cash only biz…c’mon!).

    With 800 applicants, the system has go to be full of people just entering the lottery for the sake of entering. No plan, no cart, no clue. Others entering are serious and passionate…with or without chef experience. The point being made by Mr. Morrison I’d that you at least has to be capable and ready. If you’re not, you take great vendors (who care and are ready to invest) off the street…

    I’ll give dipped bananas a try, for sure. Hopefully they add the flavour and excitement City Hall and Vancouver have been waiting for (although my first reaction is that the interest is purely a summer grab for cash and not focused on bringing better eats to the streets).

  31. How ironic that we are going to expect Vancouver Coastal Health to “monitor” the food safety and sanitation practices of these food-cart vendors when they allow a business like T&T Supermarket in Vancouver to continue operating in the filthiest and most disgusting conditions:

  32. Having done business with City Hall for decades this is pretty much what I expected, mediocrity incarnate.

  33. well given the mayor is already a billionaire because of this alleged fruit smoothie drink that cures all and doesn’t really need the job anyway, but rides his bike to work everyday nonetheless, had a whole other agenda. and it ain’t street food vendors.

  34. Maybe they’re testing the process and regulations more than the food quality? If it’s successful I expect the question of diversity and quality will be raised anew.

  35. >Maybe they’re testing the process and regulations more than the food quality? If it’s successful I expect the question of diversity and quality will be raised anew.

    The only issue with that approach is how long will we have to wait for the next round of vendors? And will it be the same silly lottery system? Will it be another year before they try and come up with something better? (Better than Toronto, more akin to Portland or NYC).

  36. I think what I find the most troubling is the fact that City Hall decided the only way to deal with this was to have a lottery. What do we pay them for? To play bingo with our license applicants? It seems odd that they have done so many studies on the waterfront stadium that the applicants basically gave up after spending millions. Why didn’t they use a roulette wheel for that decision. At least we would have known years ago if it was yes or know.

    If I had applied I would have had an equal chance to sell toast on a stick as the person who has spent hours and hours and becoup dinero with her Taco Truck business. It’s shameful.

  37. Thanks so much for this article !!!
    at least one that really reflects what the “serious” applicants felt.
    It was all a big scam. with absolutely NO respect for the profession. (what’s next ? a lottery to know who’s going to build the next high-rise !?)
    As you stated so truly, real food professionals with restaurants and already accredited carts and long time experience of street food vending at farmers markets and many other public events were ready and waiting for this pilot project, having pushed in this direction for years… and what’s the reward ? this stupid lottery with more than 600 applicants.
    600 !?!??! when you know that only a handful of street venders have mastered the art of being able to get a food permit to sell something else than hot-dogs outdoors ?!! what a joke !
    I’m sad and highly frustrated by the whole thing.
    But at least, people can continue to go at farmers markets and continue eating delicious french crepes… made by real food professionals.

  38. > What do we pay them for? To play bingo with our license applicants?

    No, we pay them to sit at a judge’s table and smack their fingers before writing down their rating of someone’s food. The lottery was likely the least expensive route to get the program moving this summer, but why let reason and logistics get in the way of a pity party.

  39. I have several questions for you here:

    1) What is your concept of street food?
    2) What is wrong with yet another falafel/shawarma shop in the corner? Similar to having a Japanese izakaya popping every couple of blocks in Vancouver Downtown/Yaletown, if yet-another one opens, it means there is a demand for it. If not, operators will certainly won’t want to risk capital to open another such business.
    3) On that note, can you, please, disclose your bias towards certain cuisines/restaurants/restaurants with big marketing budgets? The fact you are making a push towards “very capable chefs” makes me believe you have a preference for them. As a counterpoint (and I will have to admit I hate this example…), take Japadog. Story goes, Mr. Tamura wanted to set up a crepe shop but he couldn’t and, due to circumstances, he ended up setting a hot dog stand with a Japanese twist.
    4) Why everybody keeps comparing Vancouver with the street food in Portland?

    I might be a minority here but I hope this experiment will fail. I have a lot of reasons, with the main one being that, despite a large amount of Vancouver’s population being of other ethnic background (where you can find street food), I have that odd belief that people here think street food is some form of casual fine dining (and, I darn hate that phrase) on the street. If my belief is true, then Vancouver deserves what they will be getting.

  40. I think the larger issue isn’t lemonade vs tacos (although, it blows my mind that someone thinks chicken salad is going to be flying out of their cart), but something else that Andrew touched on–that there didn’t seem to be any sort of vetting process to determine if any of these people have put in the requisite leg work to ensure that they’ll actually be up and running and up to code on time and maybe that they have some sort of reasonable business plan.

    As David rightfully pointed out, if they suck, these businesses will fail, but in this case, their failing won’t just impact their own business. Had the Narrow not found success, it wouldn’t have meant that the City would then take a sober second look at allowing lounges in Vancouver at all, but that’s not really the case here.

    If this inaugural group of cart owners are problematic for health inspectors, are disorganized, and ultimately fail, it’s going to be hard to convince city bureaucrats to give it another go.

  41. > If this inaugural group of cart owners are problematic for health inspectors, are disorganized, and ultimately fail, it’s going to be hard to convince city bureaucrats to give it another go.

    There are already food carts in the city, and these things are tiny compared to inspecting a full restaurant. I’m not sure if additional staff would be needed to police the same standards as the other carts, but is that really the ‘big problem in the shadows?’

    Moreover, how are all these carts going to have quality issues so bad that it impacts the overall program? I disagree that there was some secret bias in the kvetching over this, but it really feels like reaching for hysterical what-if scenarios. We give the quality of new full service locations much less fuss, yet their impact is greater in numerous ways. Why is it food carts that create so much anguish and fear?

  42. Hi KimHo. Thanks for your comment. You asked several questions…

    What is your concept of street food? Any food served curbside from a cart or mobile food truck.

    What is wrong with yet another falafel/shawarma shop in the corner? Nothing is wrong with that, since we have – as of yet – neither. Once the green light is given, it would be great to see both and I’m glad that we will.

    On that note, can you, please, disclose your bias towards certain cuisines/restaurants/restaurants with big marketing budgets? The fact you are making a push towards “very capable chefs” makes me believe you have a preference for them. Yes, I have a bias towards very capable chefs. Quite naturally, I suppose. I don’t have a bias toward certain cuisines or restaurants, and the size of a restaurant’s marketing budget is not of any interest to me. If – with that – you’re inferring that I’m somehow “pushing” the agendas of businesses that advertise with companies that I work for, I can only say that my personal and professional integrity is my own, and I value it more than employment.

    Why everybody keeps comparing Vancouver with the street food in Portland? Because they have lots and we have none.

  43. A lottery is fair. It levels the playing field and that means everyone who applies has an equal chance of getting the opportunity to run a food cart.

    Imagine taxi licenses for example. If they only give them out to pre existing companies, how can someone have a hope in hell of starting their own taxi business?

  44. Probably here is where we disagree: In other cultures, street food isn’t meant to be some fancy type of eats. It is something that you can, as the name implies and you have agreed, something that is served on the curbside. However, the part that I would like to make emphasis – and probably different from your perspective – is that it is usually cheap, simple eats, prepared quickly and something you would eat on the run (often) or standing beside the said cart/truck. Having said that and I apologize if this might sound like beating the dead horse but…

    Any food served curbside from a cart or mobile food truck.

    So, basically, if some “casual dining” restaurant were to set up a mobile food truck, that would, technically, fall under your definition?

    Yes, I have a bias towards very capable chefs.

    I will be nitpicky on this one… Chef or cook? This falls back to the question above, by the time you need an actual chef (as in the head cook) I think there you are overthinking the concept (of course, my understanding) of street food. In fact, why not simply open a restaurant? But, still true, I will prefer that such operation be ran by somebody who can cook well but, given the (physical) size of the operation, I would rather this be limited to a handful of dishes that share a similar background.

    Why everybody keeps comparing Vancouver with the street food in Portland? Because they have lots and we have none.

    Not true. What Portland has is what they describe as pods, i.e., a street literally lined up with food trucks. If they weren’t set up in such setting, I doubt it would be as sucessful. Had people said NYC, OK, that might be different, given they have a huge street food of its own (and some interesting eats I might add). And, just for comparison purposes, people might want to check these posts from local food blogger (as in located in Vancouver) Mijune Pak of Follow Me Foodie who wrote some posts on a trip to Asia, which includes street food in Korea and China. Sure, different cultures, but it shows the simplicity behind what some of us expect from food being sold on the street…

  45. Hi again KimHo.

    Regardless of whether a ‘casual dining’ restaurant went into business on the street or some random dude started selling falafels, I’d patronize whichever one offered better food. To me, this isn’t about class or cost, it’s about quality.

    There were several local chefs with good track records and very interesting concepts in the mix for the lottery. I’m not sure why their training/experience makes them moot in your estimation. I’d sooner eat good food than bad.

    As far as the Portland comparison is concerned, I’ll concede the semantic point. I’d just like to see our own city be as permissive for once.

  46. >Imagine taxi licenses for example. If they only give them out to pre existing companies, how can someone have a hope in hell of starting their own taxi business?

    If taxi licenses were distributed by lottery like the food cart permits, you wouldn’t even need to know how to drive to be in the running to get one. How does that make sense?

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that you need to be an existing, successful business to apply, but that maybe you should have some sort of business plan as an example of due diligence and perhaps there should’ve been a qualifying round to make sure there is a fair distribution of saleable food types in the final draw.

  47. to all you folks who still believe city hall handled this the right way i say:

    chicken salad with lettuce, tomato. Fruit cup with melon, kiwi and mixed fruit

  48. Anyone go out to the demo lineup of the new vendors in Stanley Park this eve? I’ve read good reports on the bbq on twitter, but nothing else yet.

  49. Kim HO,

    No one is arguing that these carts need to be Thomas Keller level food cart’s nor that Earl’s should have won (if earls is your idea of good food then we are already coming from different worlds) what we are asking for is good food and, as is the case with most successful food carts, executed simply. Using deductive logic I am assuming you do not work in a kitchen, or food cart and have no idea how difficult executing “simple” can be after 600 plates.

    Taco trucks kill it in New York, so do espresso trucks, fruit stands… not so much, lemonade… HA!

    This all being said those with money will probably end up buying the license that the lemonade stand/fruit stand has because they can’t come up with the $100,000 it will cost to get those sorts of operations running.

  50. NYC – which has a great street food scene – has been offering street food by lottery for decades. That’s how a real world class city handles street food licensing.

  51. Care to substantiate that? I get that NYC is world class (it’s freakin’ New York, right?), but I don’t see its municipal government as above reproach on a wide number of issues. Their record on street food isn’t all that rosy. Impeachable members of NY City Council introduced legislation against their mobile vendors just last month (

  52. NYC hasn’t given out “new” licenses since 1979. There are a number that become available due to attrition every year…and those are given out by lottery (or illegally leased to third-parties). These two urls are the only real online sources I can find with to substantiate this, (and phone call to the regulators at NY will certainly substantiate beyond all doubt):

    Also…since people keep talking about “The Portland Model”….let’s not forget that 99% of all street food in Portland is crap. 1% of it is amazing, however….which is exactly 1% more than here.

  53. Let me pull out the relevant bit (from the second url):

    “There are regulations that govern truck storage, insurance, and security. And what about all-important permits and licenses? NYC, for example, has offered, by lottery, only 3,100 food vendor licenses each year since 1979, with priority given to existing vendors. With a waiting list of 10-15 years, there’s a thriving black market, with vendor permits selling for anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.”

  54. And I found yet another online source…

    “The Rules of the City of New York, the abstruse, hulking set of guidelines that regulate activities ranging from operating a street cart to carrying a handgun, stipulates that two permits are required: a Mobile Food Vendor License for you and a Mobile Food Vending Unit Permit for your truck. The former is a matter of paperwork and a few classes. The latter is not, as the city stopped issuing them ten years ago, according to a representative at the Department of Consumer Affairs, and there has been a cap of 3,100 licenses since 1979 (5,100, if you count fruit and vegetable carts, too; a bill has been introduced to raise the cap to 25,000). The permits are distributed via lotteries. “

  55. Sorry. The comment that I was asking you to substantiate was this one:

    “That’s how a real world class city handles street food licensing.”

    With the thriving black market that you mention?

  56. Is there any regulation stating that the “menu” that the licensee originally submitted is the same one that they must launch with? Maybe after actually winning, the chicken salad and lemonade vendors can reconsider what they will offer.

  57. […] How City Hall Screwed Up Their Own Street Food Pilot Project : Scout Magazine What they overlooked – recklessly in my view – was this: in food there are good operators and bad ones, those with experience and those with none. This fact should have been taken into consideration first and foremost, but it wasn’t. The City should have determined, on a case by case basis, which were the best applicants that would give Vancouver – to use the Mayor’s own words – “a world-class street food scene”. As a consequence of this error, the list of the 17 winning vendors-to-be is nothing if not wholly underwhelming. (tags: vancouver food) […]

  58. Maybe you should also remeber that it is a PILOT project. not the definite way of doing things. Who can you pilot a project when you have no way of knowing what the applicants are doing, if they are viable health wise.. etc.
    How can you then know, if it’s a failure, what is the cause of that failure ?

    Really, there are enough diversity and food professionals in the vancouver area that could have filled in those positions and that are already runing businesses with accredited food licenses….

    How can you dream of sushi in a cart ??? have you any idea of the instability of raw fish and the heat that can be on a cart, in full sun in the summer ??….

  59. It’s funny that sushi is mentioned. In Richmond there has been a small village of food trailers beginning from one trailer that opened january 2009. That one trailer specialized only in Bakudanyaki, which a giant version of the infamous takoyaki which translates to octopus fritter ball. Earlier this year it has been joined by two other mobile units, a noodle trailer that sells ramen noodles in the winter months and cold noodle salad in the summer months. The third trailer sells (dun dun duuuuunnn) custom temaki hand cones where you choose everything from the type of wrap and rice to what sauce you want on it. This vendor regularly has fresh salmon, tuna, scallop and sometimes hamachi (yellow tail) on his menu along with chicken teriyaki and unagi and others. The last two trailers have been operating for half a year now and both have strong followings, I highly suggest checking them out as they are just outside Bridgeport skytrain station (beside the busloop). More trailers are expected soon including some of the so called “gems” that were forgotten in CoV street food pilot lottery.

  60. if earls is your idea of good food then we are already coming from different worlds

    Hi Anthony, I will assume this wasn’t directed at me but, if it was, I wrote previously my understanding of street food. To satisfy your curiosity, I did work in a restaurant kitchen eons ago. And, from my own experience, simple can be broken down in:

    1) Simple dish, where it is made out of handful of ingredients. Simple to prepare, difficult to master. An example of this would be fried rice.
    2) Simple dishes, where what is served is common, to the point you can prepare it at home (but, then again, would you?). An example of this would be a hot dog.

    To me, simplicity is up to the restaurant when they set up their menu. After that, what matters is consistency. If you can’t make the same dish 600 times (or more) without much difference, then you are not doing things right. And, in the case of large restaurants, have the recipe be cooked by line cooks whose experience level might or might not be there.

  61. I’ve got to say that I’m with the “haters to the left” camp. Would it make the uber sophisticated palates of Vancouver happy to call it an organic juice stand instead of lemonade stand? Who doesn’t eat fruit in the winter? I don’t believe we can judge anything until it’s been tasted, everyone calm down and remember it’s called “street food” and not gastro bistro.

  62. Article in the Courier today states that some of the lottery winners will not be ready as they have no cart, kitchen or plan!!

    Really? The guy from the City did not do his homework to make sure that these people actually had their shit together!

    Surprise, surprise, suhhhprize!!

  63. With the possibility of a smooth launch squandered, the city has rested the success of it’s vendor program squarely on the businesses themselves.
    It remains unclear how many of the permit winners have the experience and determination to make it work.
    Rumours of permit re-selling and other shady practices are abound online.
    In an environment where a taco truck loses out to a lemonade stand, a clear winner in this mess is hard to see.