By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
Last summer, the City of Kitchener experimented with a food truck program, allowing the rolling restaurants to park at Civic Square once a week. At Monday night’s council meeting, Ward 2 Coun. Berry Vrbanovic asked city staff to investigate running a similar pilot program again this summer.
“What I’m hoping to get back from staff . . . is just to, number one, get an assessment of how things went last year; number two, what we’re looking at doing this year,” said Vrbanovic, who hopes to investigate having special events with food trucks and potentially designating areas in the city for the vendors to park.
“One of the important things is to work with the other merchants in the area and restaurateurs in the area to make sure it’s being done in a way that it complements their business and it doesn’t hurt them. That’s the whole idea of bringing in food trucks — to add to the overall vitality of the street.”
The presence of food trucks has sometimes been a sticking point for restaurant owners, but it doesn’t have to be that way, according to local foodie Andrew Coppolino.
“I think there’s a residual overflow to the brick-and-mortar venues,” he said. “For instance, I know firsthand that there were people standing in a line for a food truck, the line was too long, they left the line and went over to an adjacent restaurant and got something to eat there.
“It gets people out into the street, it gets people out into the civic centre. It gives people an opportunity to look and see what’s around them. I think that creates energy and I also think it ups the game a little bit.”
Coppolino wants to see an open discussion with stakeholders in the area, including restaurants and food truck operators, about how to move forward on the popular trend.
“The positive things are that it creates an energy and awareness about food,” he said. “There’s a hunger for it that’s piggybacking, I think, on Eat Streets, the television show that features these trucks from all across the United States.”
In June 2012, the City of Waterloo approved a food truck pilot program that offered the vendors a level of flexibility yet to be seen in Kitchener.
According to Brad Schmuck, owner and operator of the Schmuck’N Gourmet truck, he’s allowed to park in several designated areas around uptown Waterloo or, if given permission from the city and the landowner, on private property. The property must be zoned for food uses.
However, starting up his own business was no easy task. Schmuck outfitted his own truck, which had to go through several inspections to ensure it was up to the same standard as any kitchen in a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
“There were a lot of inspections to get done in order to get the licence from the City of Waterloo. It took a little bit of patience on my part to get it all done because it was all new to me,” he said.
Beyond that, there’s been a bit of a learning curve when it comes to cooking in a truck. Schmuck had a heater give out, which caused pipes to freeze, wracking up more expenses.
Still, having trained with a number of chefs and worked in everything from fine dining to family restaurants, Schmuck is excited to be able to put his own personality into his food.
“I’m from Kitchener, so I’d love to be in Kitchener to sell my food and bring my food to the people. That’s pretty much all I wanted to do the whole time,” he said.
Schmuck was unable to participate in the Kitchener pilot program last summer because his truck was still being built, but he hopes to participate in any upcoming initiatives.
“I’ve asked them now if I could continue with the pilot project, maybe do something in the wintertime with a skate and lunch kind of thing,” he said.
“We’ll see what happens with that. But their bylaws don’t allow food trucks in the area, so I haven’t really focused on Kitchener that much, because I’m just waiting for them to change their bylaws.”