New food truck policy amendment passes first hurdle

Prince Albert city council debates a motion. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Food truck vendors in Prince Albert will have to stay at least 100 meters away from brick and mortar restaurants if they want to keep operating in Prince Albert, provided a new policy amendment passes at the next city council meeting.

Council tentatively approved the changes by a 7-2 margin at Monday’s executive committee meeting. The amendment still requires formal approval at a regular council meeting before becoming law.

If approved, food truck owners will not be allowed to operate within 100 meters of a permanent restaurant. That 100 meter buffer will not apply during special events. They will also have access to pre-approved locations on 10th Street and River Street, between First Avenue East and First Avenue West.

The current policy bans them from operating right in front of a permanent restaurant without written permission, but are otherwise free to operate where they want.

Mayor Greg Dionne said this amendment will protect local restaurants, without causing undue hardship to food truck vendors. When asked if this would make a tough summer even tougher, Dionne said food truck operators make most of their money from special events. As long as those events return next summer, he’s confident food truck owners will survive the new restrictions.

“What’s killed them is no special events,” he said following Monday’s meeting. “I support food trucks 100 per cent at special events. To me, that’s what they were designed for: the Street Fair, the exhibition, Canada Day, all those kinds of things. To me, they were never meant to set up on the street. I just can’t see how they could be profitable doing that. Every food truck operator I talked to said you need crowds.”

Prince Albert’s Director of Planning and Development Craig Guidinger said the City consulted with multiple food truck owners before making the decision. He said they aren’t happy with it, but understand council’s concerns.

“Obviously, they want to be able to locate in as many places as possible, and they’re quite vocal about that,” Guidinger said. “However, they understand the predicament and I think they are settled.”

Guidinger added that Prince Albert restaurant owners that were consulted believe there is a place for food trucks in the city, provided there are a few restrictions in place.

Food truck operators were previously restricted by a 25 meter buffer up until 2019, when council brought in its new bylaws. Guidinger said they always planned to revisit the decision in a year, since there was no way to determine how well it would work.

Food truck owners like Clarence Natomagan of When Pigs Fry said he’s disappointed by city council’s decision, and worried they’re hurting the food truck industry.

“My goal was always to bring my food truck in with the dream of setting up an establishment on concrete, not on wheels, based on the success of my food truck,” he said. “Now, they’ve pretty much kyboshed my ability, or at least my timeline, to make my food known.”

Natomagan declined to give specific details about his finances, but said food truck owners do make more money at special events. However, he also said expenses at those events are significantly higher. Food truck owners have to pay a fee before they’re allowed to set up at those events, and the fees can run from a few hundred dollars, to up to $1,500 for a three day event. He said that’s significantly higher than what he pays to set up on a street in Prince Albert.

“The municipal government in town here are very narrow-minded with regard to people such as myself who are entrepreneurs here in the food industry, working our butts off to try and establish a business,” he said.

Couns. Charlene Miller and Terra Lennox-Zepp were the only two councillors to vote against the proposal on Monday. Lennox-Zepp said she wasn’t opposed to a buffer zone, but believed 100 meters was unnecessary. She also pointed out that some organizations, like the Prince Albert Downtown Business Improvement District, believe food trucks help draw customers to the area.

“This does restrict our downtown to just two specific locations for food trucks, and I think that restriction is an unfair one,” she told council. “I think that we want these food trucks moving in and we need to have a more reasonable distance.”

Mayor Greg Dionne rejected the idea that food trucks help draw crowds.

“I’ve never been at home and had the kids say, ‘oh Greg, let’s go to the food truck on Central Avenue,’” he explained. “No, it’s ‘let’s go to the restaurants.’”

Buffer zones that keep food truck away from permanent restaurants are common in Saskatchewan, although 100 meters is unusual. Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw all prohibit food trucks from operating within 20 meters of a permanent restaurant.