Exploring the laws that restrict the industry from being a larger part of Montreal’s food scene
When was the last time you ate at a food truck? Have you ever even seen a food truck in real life? I moved to Montreal three years ago and I haven’t seen one until I went to the Salada Market last weekend. The old Salada tea factory on Côte-de-Liesse has welcomed 10 food trucks to host an indoor pop-up event every Friday and Saturday from March 8 to April 27, according to CBC. The Quebec Street Food Association organized the event to extend the six-month-long food truck season cut short by winter.
If it weren’t for this event, I would have never eaten at a food truck. It’s not that I dislike food trucks; I find the food offered is somewhere between fast food and fancy cuisine. I was never particularly drawn to eating at a food truck. Honestly, I didn’t even know food trucks existed in Montreal because I never saw one.
The food truck industry doesn’t have it easy. The old regulations imposed by Montreal limit food trucks’ ability to reach their clients. The current regulations were imposed in 2013, after a 66-year ban on food trucks was lifted, according to The Globe and Mail. The ban began in 1947 for sanitary reasons, and food trucks had to remain 50 meters away from restaurants. They were kept far from popular locations and from Montrealers.
How would I have encountered a food truck if I was not aware of their existence, especially if they are located far from commercial areas? I do understand this law was, I believe, to ensure food trucks weren’t stealing restaurants’ clientele. In my opinion, both attract different types of clients. Saying food trucks are competing against restaurants is like comparing a Toyota Corolla with a Mustang. They are technically both cars but driving a Mustang and a Toyota Corolla are two different experiences.
But what makes it easier is when a client knows what they want. “A client has an idea in mind,” said the owner of Boîte à Fromages, Alexandra Bonnet. “They know if they want the fast experience of a food truck. The client is the master.” Bonnet doesn’t consider the 50-meter law to be a threat to her business. She trusts the customers will eat at her truck because they genuinely want to experience her food.
If I were in charge, I would let food trucks decide which location is suitable to them. Food truck owners know who their typical clients are and can decide which location will be more profitable. While I was collecting Montrealers’ opinions about food trucks at the Salada Market, I met tourists from the Philippines, Germany and France who decided to make the event part of their trip. Food trucks help tourism and deserve more publicity to encourage locals to experience their food.
Disregarding the unfavorable locations, the 33 food trucks registered in Montreal at the beginning of last summer were scrambling to find a site to install. In 2017, six boroughs offered sites for food trucks: Ville-Marie, Outremont, Vermont, Sud-Ouest, Mercier-Hochelaga and Rosemont-La-Patrie.
In 2018, only 3 boroughs offered locations for food trucks because of the lack of clientele according to CBC. I lived in Lasalle, situated next to Verdun, for two years, and not once did I encounter a food truck. The secluded locations deprived me of enjoying Le Gras Dur’s donut burgers.
On March 14, the Mayor of Montreal, Valérie Plante, announced new regulations for food trucks to help the struggling industry, according to the Montreal Gazette. “I find this year’s new law makes it even easier for us,” said the owner of Das Food Truck, Annie Clavette. “It’s going to be a lot easier to have access to places where the clientele is present.”
The new regulations will place the responsibility on boroughs to reach out to the Quebec Street Food Association to communicate their interest in welcoming food trucks, said Clavette. The Quebec Street Food Association then contacts food trucks offering them a spot to install.
Each borough will choose one location for all the food trucks to set up during the summer, disregarding the 50-meter-law, explained Clavette. “Instead of being 50 meters from success, we’ll be closer to the population,” Clavette said. “[Are food trucks] accessible now with the new law? No,” said a customer at the Salada Market, Marie Gauthier. “They’re all in the same place at the same time.”
In the past, food trucks would be distributed across the borough. Now, they will be grouped in a specific location, making it difficult for every resident to come across them––especially in a larger borough. This problem is similar to the 50-meter law. If clients don’t actively want to eat at a food truck, they might never know they exist unless they happen to come across one. “For us, what guarantees our income are events,” said Clavette.
Events like First Friday’s at the Parc Olympique attract Montrealers and tourists. In my opinion, the wide selection of food, activities and DJs makes it worth traveling to the event. I believe the city is trying to replicate these events by bringing food trucks together. The variety of food available could encourage Montrealers to travel to specific locations. Maybe I’m just considering the possibility of enjoying a raclette styled meal from Boîte à Fromages followed by a delicious cookie monster ice cream from Le Casse-Glace. The benefits of these new regulations will be apparent during this year’s food truck season which begins in May.
Photos by Lili Testemale.