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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Toronto food truck alley hits summer speed bumps

toronto food truck alleyFood trucks tend to bring a party to the streets, but five weeks after Toronto's first-ever food truck alley rolled into the Tire Source parking lot at 141 Queen St. East, the sleepy corner of Queen and Jarvis, on an average day, is still on the quiet side.

The corner lot, designated earlier this summer as a spot where food trucks could roll in and park over the lunch hour to serve downtown diners, now hosts between one and three trucks every weekday. Though it may seem like boom times for Toronto food trucks, the space is experiencing something of a summer slowdown.

Though it's walking distance from Ryerson, George Brown College and St. Michael's Hospital, foot traffic is already on the slow side for the area, which hosts few businesses aside from a strip of stores to the west on Queen.

Trucks who attend the spot, including Fidel Gastro's, have seen major ups and downs. "It's pretty inconsistent," says owner Matt Basile, who's bringing the truck back to the alley on Friday. "There was one time we went there and we did really well - it was really busy, a lot of foot traffic. Next time we went there, it was no foot traffic, it was pretty sporadic. I think consistency's a big problem there."

Will Randolph, the space's organizer and owner of the Feisty Jack food truck, adds that many food trucks booked in the space don't always show up on the scheduled days, which throws off customers expecting to grab some of their favourite eats.

"The main question we get, every time we go there, is 'what's going on with the schedule?'" he says. "We've been getting rid of the trucks that don't show up - we've been weeding them out. There are a lot of trucks that are no longer welcome, because they've missed three days."

For the trucks that do attend, he says, business isn't bad overall; he reports that Gastro's, Food Dudes and Gourmet Gringos, in particular, have all had banner lunch services.

"If you want to put a truck there and serve food, there's a good opportunity to do it. There's lots of people that live in that area. It's a busy time. If a truck had a serious commitment and wanted to actually set up shop, they could do a good job - but we schedule people in, and they don't show up."

That's been compounded by the fact that they opened in mid-July, without much of a buffer before a slowdown in August. "You'd think it's good, but it's actually the slowest month of the year, because a lot of people go on holiday," he says. He and Basile both say they're optimistic for the fall, as office workers return from vacation and word continues to spread.

"Do I think it has potential to be a good spot? One hundred per cent," Basile says, adding that a tight lineup of trucks (no more than two or three at a time) and a larger push for awareness, like posters or signs in the area, would make a major difference.

"There's a lot of offices in a four or five block radius from that spot. I think the biggest obstacle is making sure the neighbouring office communities know that we exist, and that we're so close, because there's a lot between them and us.

"Knowing food trucks are an option there every single day is kind of half the battle."

by Natalia Manzocco via blogTO

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