Food truck owner looking for answer after being denied business licence

Customers line up to order at Kyra Robillard's food truck during the 2019 Canada Day celebrations. -- Photo from Baby Got Bannock Facebook page.

At this time last year, Kyra Robillard was busy serving meals and taking orders.

This year, she’s wondering if she’ll do that at all over the next three months.

Robillard, the owner and operator of food truck Baby Got Bannock, knew the COVID-19 restrictions would make it difficult to attract customers this summer. Now, she’s worried she might not even get the chance after the City of Prince Albert declined to give her a business licence.

“We were uncertain about opening,” she said during an interview on Tuesday. “We said, ‘well, let’s try and open and all of a sudden there’s another wall to jump over.”

Robillard said the most frustrating part has been the lack of communication. Normally, the City of Prince Albert is in touch with food truck owners to let them know about any changes to business licences, but that didn’t occur this year. She only found out they weren’t handing out licences when she called City Hall to ask how she could get one, since in-person services were closed to the public.

While it is possible to operate outside the City, Robillard said that would cut into her customer base. Travelling to other communities is out of the question because her husband works shift work, and their children are still young.

Just moving to a different location in Prince Albert can cut down on sales, so it’s not really worth setting up in new communities unless there’s a festival, tournament or fair taking place. None of those will start up any time soon.

“Our options are maybe to go and operate in the RM of Prince Albert, and since we’re so small it’s harder for us to get the word out,” said Robillard, who is heading into her fourth summer in the food truck business. “We don’t open on regular hours, so when we do open, it (involves) a lot of marketing posts and trying to people (out).

“It’s hard for people to follow us, especially with last year. The location I’d park would be Kinsmen Park and downtown on River Street. If I have to park somewhere new again, it makes it harder for people to find us and support our small businesses.”

Robillard said she was told Prince Albert was just following policies set by other cities, but food trucks were allowed to open in Saskatoon last week. Some provinces, like British Columbia, even designated them as an essential service, and allowed them to set up at highway rest points to feed long-distance truck drivers.

Mayor Greg Dionne said he wasn’t aware of any requests from food truck owners who wanted to start opening up. However, he adamantly opposed giving them business licences until brick and mortar restaurants could open their doors too.

“Why would we cut the throats of all our restaurant people?” he said. “They employ hundreds of people and are going to need that business to get back to work. No, I would not support food trucks.”

Even with the provincial government easing COVID-19 restrictions, food truck owners are part of a long list of businesses that are going to struggle to stay open.

Gary Grady, the president of the Saskatoon Food Truck Association and owner/operator of Pour Gary’s food truck, said is costs between $3,000 and $3,500 in annual start-up costs just to get a food truck on the road. With so many summer events cancelled he doesn’t see how owners can recoup their losses.

“Street business isn’t bad, but a food truck generally makes its money off of the festivals, and they’re not up,” he said. “A lot of trucks aren’t going to open because of the cost.”

Like most food-trucks, Pour Gary’s is a seasonal side-gig. Grady’s main business is a restaurant and pub in Dundurn, which is hurting just as badly. He’s trying to stay optimistic, especially after food trucks started operating in Saskatoon last week.

However, as long as the province remains in phase two of the Reopen Saskatchewan plan, food truck owners will struggle to make money. He’s tried to get more information out of the provincial government regarding when that might be, but has heard very little back.

Grady said he likely won’t even open until phase three comes. Instead, he’ll focus everything on his restaurant and pub.

“I don’t make my livelihood from the truck, but it helps,” he said.

Back in Prince Albert, Robillard said she’s still hoping to work with the city to resolve the situation. She’s already written them a letter suggesting a few ways they could licence food trucks while following the COVID-19 regulations.

She’s frustrated with the original decision, which she believes was impulsive and poorly thought out. However, she’s holding out hope that things will get better.

“We’re optimistic,” she said.