Last week, the City of Vancouver approved 12 new food carts to add to the growing diversity of Vancouverâ€™s food haven melting pot. Out of 59 applicants this time around, however, thatâ€™s an eighty percent rejection rate for non-approval of entering the market.
With criteria including cultural diversity and sustainability at the forefront, as well as the limits on health and parking regulation imposed by the City â€“yes, there are rulesâ€” there is no doubt about the politics to the Vancouver food cart industry.
The city promotes an increase in the number of food carts with the total currently at 103 and plans to approve 20 more over the next two years. [Full list of Vancouver street vendors here]. This is outlined by the COVâ€™s street food program that advocates for the public space and local economy. Particularly for young entrepreneurs, mobile kitchens in the form of food carts are ideal for business start-ups when considering the cost for licensing. With the growth and popularity of the industry, however, this may easily change if the salty politics are not evident already.
A map of the parking licenses distributed to food vendors will indicate that food carts are strategically located in high density areas heavily concentrated in the downtown core. Simply, the busiest streets are where â€œthe bestâ€ food carts are. Food vendors go through a particular process getting approval, a location, and determining how much it will pay to the City, based on ranking from a panel of judges comprised of not just foodies. Including media, city officials and some representatives of the public, choosing who is deemed â€œthe bestâ€ may be more favourable towards one aspect over another. As a result, when â€œthe bestâ€ get awarded with highest traffic locations, lower ranked vendors get stuck with less ideal spots thus making it harder to compete. Thinking about awards, consider the sway of established chefs taking to the streets or niche cultures. La Brasserie Street surely beat out a dozen hot dog applicants.
The City of Vancouver and Vancouver Parks Board is also considering expansion into Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth and Vanier Park. Typical street licensing fees of $1000 that will increase up to $15,000 is a further example of unfair competition to young entrepreneurs in the food cart industry.
Arguably, this is the way of the Hand, and the market dictates that whoever is best can continue to be awarded with more of the best. But consider the Cityâ€™s role of regulation amongst who benefits most. Can young entrepreneurs keep up in this kind of market?
Photo from The Province