Summer 2013 was extra delectable in Montreal. Why? Food trucks, of course. After a 66 year ban, food trucks in Montreal were given the green light to hit the streets and serve up some good eats. The 2013 Food Truck Pilot Project saw 20+ mobile food vendors throughout the city, albeit in fixed locations, bringing a new kind of food culture to "over 100, 000 Montreal residents" (Cerf, Gaelle. Personal interview. 15 Nov. 2013).Largely loved, there were some issues with the Montreal food truck system, with complaints coming from food truck owners and customers alike. Speaking with Gaëlle Cerf, co-owner of Grumman 78 and VP of the Association Des Restaurateurs De Rue Du Quebec (ARRQ), we got some insight into the origins, mechanics, and future of food trucks in Montreal.
What Worked, What Didn't
No on can deny that nearly all of the dishes served by Montreal's food trucks were delicious. Despite the tastiness, customers had some gripes with pricing, and owners had issues with the organization of trucks around the city. Having the chance to speak with many food truck owners and customers this past summer (and it was a lot, check it), here were the most frequent complaints:
- The strict schedule food trucks had to follow, with fixed locations, some being unpopular depending on the day/time.
- Required partnership with a restaurant or commercial kitchen
- Arguably high prices for gourmet dishes
Combined, these issues gave people the impression that Montreal 'missed the point' of food trucks, and that the strict structuring was not necessary. However, the ARRQ have strong rebuttals justifying their actions, that I'm sure many didn't think about:
- A set schedule of trucks in specific locations allowed for ease in finding trucks, thus creating a culture and habit for food trucks in a city that hasn't had them in many years.
- Forcing food trucks to have a commercial kitchen ensured sanitation laws were met, along with quality of food preparation. It also deterred random people from just making stuff in their homes, or buying frozen, and reselling for a profit.
- Cost comes from the ingredients, which were generally of high quality in many food trucks. Also, certain events/venues (e,g, Bouffons) charged vendor fees, reaching thousands of dollars per day, which forced food trucks to raise food prices.
With those points in mind, the 'problems' of Montreal's food trucks don't seem so bad. Lets all keep in mind that this was the first year of the Pilot Project, and the ARRQ only had about 2 months to set up the entire system. Given that time frame, food trucks were a huge success, and the negative aspects are really just points for improvement.
Us vs. Them
For a bit of perspective, lets look at how food trucks work in other cities in Canada and beyond to see how Montreal's street food compares, and what we can learn from.
Toronto: Much like Montreal, Toronto launched a new food truck project, very similiar to our own. Truck owners have to go through many of the same beuracratic loopholes and meet similar health standards. One glaring difference is the lack of designated locations, which has proven to be a good and bad thing. Although TO food trucks are 'free' to go anywhere, you do need a permit to be curbside, must have permission on private property, and are totally prohibited from serving food in the downtown core. Without a controlled schedule, citizens had too look harder for food truck locations, and owners lost the business of downtown pedestrian traffic.
The US: When comparing Montreal to US food trucks, people saw some major issues. Laws reuglating food trucks in the States are much more lax, allowing for cheaper food prices and more variety, as anyone can open a truck. Cheaper yes, but the lack of regulations makes the quality of standard much lower. Some food trucks are amazing, while others not so much. Let's also keep in mind that Montreal isn't required to mimic the food trucks of the US, we're building our own street food culture, with a more gourmet edge.
France: Hilariously enough, when the ARRQ was invited to a food truck festival in Marseilles, France, they found that French food trucks kind of sucked. Taking from the American style of food trucks, the food served was not very creative and of low quality. France's food trucks are a good example of one country adopting another's street food culture, with poor results. Be glad Montreal didn't do the same.
What to Expect Next Year
Despite the problems food trucks faced in 2013, 2014 is a brand new year, and the ARRQ looks forward to next season very optimistically. To get excited for next year, here are some planned expansions and improvements to food trucks in Montreal:
- New locations + expanding food trucks outside of the city core to different burroughs. A plus for those who don't live downtown but love street food
- More locations --> more food trucks (40-50 in total). Even more deliciousness to choose from? Yes please.
- More food truck events (e.g. First Fridays), both large and small in scale. Certain burroughs may have specific food truck events too.
A 2014 food truck season is still dependent on the newly elected mayor's decision, but when you look at Coderre's physique, it seems unlikely he's gonna say no to food.
A Growing Culture
2013 was the first time in modern memory that a street food culture existed in Montreal. Sure, the system wasn't perfect, but that can only be expected, given the infancy of food truck culture and regulations in Montreal. The end goal of the ARRQ is to make food trucks an integral part of Montreal culture, like a deppaneaur: a well known and often frequented locale to get good food on the go. Street food culture is still forming in Montreal, so help it grow. Offer suggestions if you have them, go to the many food truck events, and check out what your favourite food trucks are doing over the Winter. All in all: support your local food truck!