Think food trucks are a big city thing? Think again! Even the small town of Inuvik, NT is grappling with the trend, even though they have just one truck (actually it’s a trailer) called Ready Red’s, not to mention a climate that makes street vending realistic for just a few short months each year. Brick-and-mortar businesses have complained as have taxi drivers and even some residents. A similar situation has played out in dozens of towns and cities over the last six years or so, ever since the “modern” food truck boom began.1
With my passion for food trucks and the fact that I lived in Inuvik for eight years when I was a kid, I’m quite interested in the outcome of Ready Red’s fight. It’s fascinating to me that the same arguments are made again and again in different towns and cities. At the opposite end of the scale from Inuvik there’s New York, which has been dealing with complaints about food trucks for years. Some places clamp down on food trucks, others work hard to support them. Even locations that are relatively close together can have very different approaches; for instance, San Diego heavily regulates food trucks whereas Los Angeles is quite open to them.
Welcome to Inuvik, photo by Chris Harrison
In today’s Inuvik Drum, the news brief read:
“Following complaints about the Ready Red’s mobile food trailer parked near the Mad Trapper, the town’s bylaw review committee has recommended banning street venders from parking along Mackenzie Road in the core area.
Instead of using existing roadside parking spaces, the town’s bylaw amendment would move street venders on to private property, similar to how Bill Rutherford operates his grocery business.”
Bill Rutherford is affectionately known to locals as “Bill the Fruit Man”. He brings fresh produce from Whitehorse to Inuvik every three weeks in a large semi-trailer. I remember going to buy groceries with my parents from his truck, parked in an empty lot on the main street2. I guess you could say that was my first exposure to a “food truck”.
Josh Tyler is the owner of Ready Red’s and he was at Inuvik’s Town Council meeting last night to make his case. He also started an online petition that currently has over 270 signatures. Josh promised to have “a mob of people and supporters” with him at the meeting, and it sounds like he delivered. Mayor Floyd Roland said he had never seen such a turnout for a council meeting!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for Ready Red’s. The proposed bylaw that would ban food trucks on town roads passed first and second reading. It still has to pass third reading before it would become an official town bylaw. If that happens, Ready Red’s would only be able to operate on private property3.
That’s a photo of Inuvik’s main street, Mackenzie Road, in the winter, which is pretty much how I remember it. You’d think this would be a big enough barrier for food trucks in the north! Ready Red’s parks just to the left of where this photo was taken.
Should towns and cities embrace food trucks? I’m inclined to say yes, because I think food trucks bring more than just good food to the table – they also promote street activity. At least one study makes a strong economic case for food trucks too (PDF):
“Street sellers can create jobs, help keep streets safe, give consumers the goods and services they want and add to the vitality of cities. But for that to happen, cities must get rid of the convoluted and protectionist laws that stand in vendors’ ways.”
The authors of that report recommend eliminating or revising obsolete restrictions, repealing bans on street vending, repealing proximity restrictions, streamlining the permit process, and providing clear, simple, and modern rules that are narrowly tailor to address health and safety issues. “Then they should get out of the way and let vendors work.”
We’ll have to wait and see if Inuvik decides to put up barriers or instead decides to let food trucks flourish. Inuvik Town Council meets on the 2nd and 4th Monday and Wednesday of each month, so their next meeting will take place May 26. Minutes from last night’s meeting will eventually be posted on their website.
Richard J. S. Gutman, author of “American Diner: Then & Now”, estimates the food truck industry can be traced back to Walter Scott who back in 1872 parked a wagon in front of a local newspaper office in Providence, R.I. and sold sandwiches and pies. The beginning of the modern food truck era is generally believed to coincide with the popular Kogi Korean BBQ truck, which burst on to the scene using social media about six years ago. See: Who Made That Food Truck? ↩
Has Inuvik changed much since I lived there? Some things change, some stay the same. The fruit man still sells his produce, but my elementary school was demolished a few weeks ago. ↩
I’m not 100% certain, but it looks like Ready Red’s began life on the sidewalk, as a hot dog and burger stand, back in 2011. ↩