In January I had the opportunity to take part in the World’s Best Food Truck tour in downtown Vancouver. Quick immersion into this bustling industry got me thinking about what it takes to make it in the Vancouver food truck scene.
So I investigated. Naturally I started with the food.
These are not your average food trucks, well at least as far as my experience goes. Unfortunately after the second food truck, I felt as if though I had eaten a whole cake. Damn my years of mini-meal-ing it. Let’s just say food truck portions are NOT skimpy. (* I advise not eating prior to this tour. Wearing stretchy pants is also highly recommended.)
Nonetheless, I made it through all five stops – the food was simply too good not to eat. Beyond the food, we were given a quick but very comprehensive education on the whole food truck scene by guide Andrew Louie, who works for Vancouver’s Foodie Tours.
6 things Vancouver food truck owners need to succeed:
1. Competitive spirit
In 2012 the process to break into the Vancouver food truck scene took a turn – a very competitive one.
With approximately 91 food truck licenses active in 2011 and most of those offering traditional pop up options like hotdogs, chestnuts, ice cream bars, etc., 12 exclusive spots were added in 2012. Judged taste tests were administered, specific criteria added and the race to secure spots officially began.
That competitive environment extended into 2013 and will continue until at least 2016, when the city aims to have 150 licensed food trucks extending from and outside of Vancouver’s downtown core. They are currently sitting around 120 or so food carts.
Spots are coveted by potential hopefuls hoping to find their special street corner.
2. The product – This ain’t your average hot dog stand
Food sold must be both exceptional and desirable. And, although there are still a lot of hotdog stands, they are gourmet hot dog stands. Yes I am looking at you JapaDog.
In Vancouver, you are simply not going to find run of the mill food trucks on popular corners like that of Granville and West Georgia Street. Instead, you will find the crème de la crème and an exceptional cross section of food to choose from. Can’t find the savory food you are craving – walk a block – there is always more around the corner.
3. Pass the taste test – and don’t forget the details
Sarb Mund, owner of the Soho Road Naan Kebab and treasurer of the Food Truck Association, says getting accepted is “a very competitive process … like achieving that golden seal of approval”.
Sarb who serves up tasty tandoori nosh, won 2012’s taste test which then allowed him to choose his prime location, which at the time, was the corner of Granville and Georgia Street. He has since relocated to another prime locale, in front of the Supreme Court building (800 Smithe Street).
Today Soho Road remains a ‘go to’ spot for good reason – the food keeps people coming back for more. Did I mention he has a tandoori oven in his truck? Yep – freshly cooked naan bread. So tasty.
TacoFino, another truck whose fare I enjoyed immensely, was honoured in 2013 by Vancouver magazine as top food truck of the year, specializes in Baja-inspired tacos. The notes I scribbled on TacoFino were to the point and easily summarize my experience: “$5 Fish taco to die for. Chocolate diablo cookie with cayenne to go. Don’t miss.”
Having amazing food is definitely a requirement but those who are doing it right also pay attention to detail.
4. The will to survive – perseverance
Many of these food truck spots sit on prime real estate and the amount they pay is astonishing – comparable to store front spots, which as you can guess in Vancouver cost a LOT. Some food trucks, JapaDog for instance, have both truck service and permanent brick and mortar shops.
Working hard is an understatement. You really have to have it all – unique offerings, hard work ethic and the ability to take the good days with the bad. Weather for example, can easily make or break a day.
To succeed in a market this competitive, having a great personality can only help you. And some have personalities to match their product. Case and point, Cindy Hamilton, owner of Mom’s Grilled Cheese Truck serves delicious home cooked food. Her namesake item, tasty grilled cheese sandwiches are melt-in-your-mouth amazing. It’s like having a mom on the streets cooking for you. And, it really seems she cares about people she’s serving. You actually want to stay there and chat with this woman – like you know her (know what I mean?).
6. Additional means
It would be nice to think that these savvy entrepreneurs could get by just working the summer months but the fact is, the bulk of their business takes place between May-September. “In
order for these guys to make it, especially through the winter months, they depend on catering gigs and special events as business off the street simply isn’t enough to sustain their business,” shared Foodie Tours owner, Michelle Ng.
Interested in checking out the Vancouver Food Truck Scene?
The World’s Best Food Truck Tour is recognized as a Canadian Signature Experience and priced at an affordable $49. As described on their site, this tour promises to be one of the “most mind-blowing” lunches you will have with “four courses, five tastings, nine stories and two hours of tantalizing fun.” Learn more about the tours offered by Foodie Tours by visiting www.foodietours.ca.
Did you know?Vancouver is rated in the top 3 food truck cities in North America. They are best known for their multicultural food truck scene, utilization of local ingredients and support for sustainability as part of the city’s goal to become the greenest city by 2020.