What the Truck?! at Capital Boulevard on September 9, 2017

As you can tell by the beautiful weather we’ve been having this week, summer isn’t done quite yet! There’s still time to enjoy tasty food truck eats at our final What the Truck?! event of the season:

WHAT: What the Truck?! 2017 Season Wrap-up
WHEN: Saturday, September 9, 2017 from 12pm to 7pm
WHERE: Capital Boulevard (108 Street & 99 Avenue)
RSVP: On Facebook

If this is your first time attending one of our events, be sure to read our tips & tricks. Here is the line-up and here are the menus.

What the Truck?! at Capital Boulevard

I think 2017 has been a great year for food trucks in Edmonton. With around 100 trucks and no shortage of opportunities to patronize them, our city’s food truck scene has continued the momentum built over the last few years. For What the Truck?!, it has been a year of transition. After Saturday we will have run just two of our own events this season. In many ways we have accomplished what we originally set out to, so the way we can best support food trucks in Edmonton is changing. We do that behind-the-scenes with our Book the Trucks form and we’re working on how best to use our network to grow the scene further. To that end, I’m excited that Cindy and Diane have joined our team in recent months to help with social media and communications! I’ll write more about that on the What the Truck?! site soon.

Keep up-to-date on food trucks in Edmonton by following What the Truck?! on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And to see where the trucks are, be sure to download the Street Food App.

See you on Saturday at Capital Boulevard!

What the Truck?! kicks off May 14, 2017

Winter hasn’t quite given up yet here in Edmonton, but hopefully it won’t be long until the trees are green, the sun is shining, and food trucks are once again a regular sight around the city! To help kick things off, we’re excited to share the details for our first What the Truck?! event of 2017:

WHAT: What the Truck?! 2017 Season Kickoff
WHEN: Sunday, May 14, 2017 from 12pm to 7pm
WHERE: Edmonton Expo Centre, Northlands (free parking!)
RSVP: On Facebook

Yes, that is Mother’s Day, so bring your Mom and enjoy some tasty food trucks! If this is your first time attending one of our events, be sure to read our tips & tricks.

We’re not quite ready to announce the lineup just yet, but there will be no shortage of options. Stay tuned to our website for the list of trucks, menus, and more in the coming days.

What the Truck?! at Northlands

It has been amazing for me personally to see the food truck scene in Edmonton grow since we held our first event way back in June 2011. Last year we worked with nearly 100 different food trucks, which is even more incredible when you consider that a number of them have closed or transitioned into brick-and-mortar restaurants over the last few years. If you’re starting a food truck and want to get involved, you can join What the Truck?! here. One of the ways we help food trucks is by connecting them with hundreds of event opportunities every year using our Book the Trucks form.

This year we’ve decided to run a few less of our own events and will instead focus primarily on promoting the trucks and other events. We are getting ready to share more on that soon.

Keep up-to-date on food trucks in Edmonton by following What the Truck?! on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And to see where the trucks are, be sure to download the Street Food App.

See you on May 14 at Northlands!

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment, What the Truck?!, Metro Edmonton’s Future

Here’s the latest entry in my Edmonton Etcetera series, in which I share some thoughts on a few topical items in one post. Less than I’d write in a full post on each, but more than I’d include in Edmonton Notes. Have feedback? Let me know!

Edmonton Food Council Recruitment

The Edmonton Food Council is seeking four new members for three-year terms beginning in September 2016:

“As a volunteer committee of the City, the Edmonton Food Council’s primary role is to advise and act on matters related to the ongoing implementation of fresh: Edmonton’s Food and Agriculture Strategy. The Edmonton Food Council aims to engage with the community on relevant and timely issues related to food and urban agriculture.”

Open Farm Days 7005
Open Farm Days 2015, photo by Premier of Alberta

I think we’ve had a difficult few years since the council was first established in 2013 but I am excited about the year ahead! We have agreed to focus on food security, have setup a website, and have established a few committees that have been working well together. There have been some big successes over the last couple of years including hens, bees, and the urban agriculture zoning changes, and I think there are lots of great opportunities ahead.

If you think you’d like to join us, you can apply online here. You’ll need your resume and two letters of reference to go along with the application form. The deadline to get everything in is 5pm on Monday, June 20, 2016.

What the Truck?! at Blatchford Tower

After a very successful first event of the season a few weeks ago at Northlands, we’re ready for round two! Our next What the Truck?! event takes place on Saturday, June 18, 2016 from 4-8pm at Blatchford Tower! You can see the event and RSVP on Facebook and you can check out the lineup and menus here.

CYXD - Edmonton City Centre - Last Day of Ops
CYXD – Edmonton City Centre – Last Day of Ops, photo by Jeff Wallace

The event takes place along Airport Road right in front of the old City Centre Airport control tower (see it on Street View here). There won’t be any snow thankfully, but check out that view! This is going to be a fun location because in addition to learning more about the City’s plans for Blatchford, if you bring a donation for Edmonton’s Food Bank, you can go up inside the tower to get a unique look at downtown Edmonton’s skyline.

Admission is free as always, and there’s lots of parking at either the Ramada Hotel on the west side or Aviation Museum on the east side. I hope to see you there!

Metro Edmonton’s Future

Last week the Advisory Panel on Metro Edmonton’s Future released its report. This new group was convened in September by the Metro Mayors Alliance which itself was only formalized over the summer last year. Here are the advisory panel members:

  • Don Lowry – Former President & CEO of EPCOR Utilities
  • Carman McNary – Managing Partner of the Edmonton office of Dentons Canada LLP
  • Stanford Blade – Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta
  • Phyllis Clark – Vice President, Finance and Administration, and CFO at the University of Alberta
  • Salima Ebrahim – Executive Director of the Banff Forum
  • Linda Hughes – 19th Chancellor of the University of Alberta
  • Reg Milley – Former President & CEO of Edmonton Airports
  • Liz O’Neill – Executive Director of Boys and Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters Society of Edmonton & Area
  • Tim Reid – President & CEO of Northlands
  • Andrew Ross – Executive Vice President, Northern Operations, for Clark Builders
  • Brad Stelfox – ALCES Group Founder
  • Paul Whittaker – President & CEO of the Alberta Forest Products Association

The Alliance was established “to support the global competitiveness and future prosperity of communities in the Metro Edmonton area” and the Panel was intended to “provide insight on matters for the region to further consider.” The cost of the panel was $600,000 which will be shared by the nine member municipalities which include Edmonton, Strathcona County, St. Albert, Sturgeon County, Fort Saskatchewan, the City of Leduc, Leduc County, Spruce Grove, and Parkland County. As Paula Simons noted in her column today, that group “represents nine municipalities with 95 per cent of the regional population, and 96 per cent of the regional tax assessment base.”

The report, called Be Ready, Or Be Left Behind, “provides a roadmap for creating a globally competitive, future-ready Edmonton Metro Region.” It highlights three critical systems for the region: economic development, public transit, and land use and infrastructure development. Can’t get much broader than that! At least they said public transit and not simply transportation. The report makes these recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1: Affirm the Metro Mayors Alliance by developing and signing a Memorandum of Understanding that spells out a commitment to plan, decide and act as one Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #2: Formalize the commitment to think, plan and act as an Edmonton Metro Region through a legally binding Master Agreement.
  • Recommendation #3: Consistent with the signed Master Agreement, establish the structures needed to create the three key cornerstones of a globally competitive Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3a: Establish and mandate a new entity responsible for regional economic development in the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3b: Establish and mandate an entity responsible for planning, decision-making and delivering core public transit across the Edmonton Metro Region.
  • Recommendation #3c: Establish a structure with the capacity and authority to facilitate and act upon regional land use planning and regional infrastructure development in the Edmonton Metro Region.

Paula noted that this could become a major election issue next year. And she notes the potential impact of this group on the Capital Region Board:

“The 24-member Capital Region Board, created, somewhat forcibly, by then-premier Ed Stelmach back in 2008, isn’t nimble enough to give metro Edmonton the leadership it needs.”

Now that the report is out, it’ll be up to the nine mayors to do something about it.

You can follow this on Twitter using the hashtag #YEGMetroRegion and/or the shorter #yegmetro as adopted by the local media.

Final What the Truck?! event of the season is Friday at Churchill Square!

What a season we’ve had for food trucks in Edmonton! We’re up to well over 70 trucks in the Edmonton area now, which is great news for diners looking for diverse menu options and lots of selection. We’ve had a good year with What the Truck?! more specifically as well. By the time our season is done this weekend, we’ll have featured more than 60 different trucks at our events and already this year we’ve connected 250 events with food trucks.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square
May 2015 was our busiest event ever

It might have been a chilly long weekend but summer is not over yet! Our final event of the season is going to be Edmonton’s biggest yet, with 35 trucks participating:

What: What the Truck?!
Where: Sir Winston Churchill Square
When: Friday, September 11, 2015
Time: 4-8pm
RSVP on Facebook!

You can check out the full lineup and menus here. This is our second event of the year at Churchill Square, as we started the season there back in May.

If you came to the May event this year and had a negative experience, I’d encourage you to give the event another shot. We’re always learning and trying to improve things, and we’ve worked with the food trucks to make some behind-the-scenes changes that should help. The number of menu items has been reduced, we’ve implemented a line-management system so that you don’t get stuck waiting for something that is sold out, and of course we have ten more trucks! If you came to our June, July, or August events, you’ll know that May was unusually busy and that your typical experience is much more positive.

If you’ve never been to What the Truck?! before, that’s okay too – we’d love to see you on Friday! Be sure to come prepared by checking out our FAQs and reading our Tips & Tricks page.

Stay tuned to our website, Facebook event, and Twitter for updates and other details!

Recaplets: What the Truck, Edmonton Rush, MADJAM

My list of things to write about is always longer than I can manage, so from time to time I find it helpful to do some mini recaps, or recaplets. Here’s the latest edition:

What the Truck?!

Hard to believe we’re already in our fifth year, but it’s true! Our team of organizers has grown to seven this year, with the addition of Katherine, Mikhaila, and Su.

We’ve hosted two events already this year, with another three to go. Our season kicked off on May 23 at Churchill Square and thanks in part to amazing weather, we had record attendance. Sharon recapped it here, and even with more than 20 events under our belts, we’re still learning about things we can do better.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Our second event took place on Sunday and was a much quieter affair, but it was our first attempt at brunch and we were just thankful it didn’t rain on us! We loved the location though, at 108 Street right in front of the Federal Building, so I think it’s safe to say we’ll try to return there again next season.

Our next three events are taking place on July 10 at Northlands Park, August 22 at TELUS Field, and September 11 back in Churchill Square. Hope to see you there!

Edmonton Rush win the NLL Champions Cup

I know I have already mentioned the big Edmonton Rush victory in my Edmonton notes, but I wanted to expand on it a little.

Edmonton Rush win NLL Champions Cup

Winning the title is always the goal but winning at home? You couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the 10th anniversary season. For me, the victory was made even sweeter as I was in the crowd with my brother. We have been attending Rush games since the very beginning. Actually since before the beginning, as we went to the training camp back in 2005 too! We travelled down to Calgary to witness the first ever Edmonton Rush victory in 2006 and while that was amazing, winning the title is something else.

Edmonton Rush 2015 Western Final

Here’s what owner Bruce Urban wrote:

“Ten years of blood, sweat and tears have amounted to this, our first Champions Cup title in team history. We’ve had to make some moves over the years, trades that haven’t been easy, but we did so knowing that we were building a championship calibre team, one that Edmonton could be proud of.”

I’m not sure if the Rush will remain in Edmonton, but I hope they do. There are lots of reasons it would make sense for the Oilers Entertainment Group to own the team, but it seems that ship may have sailed. Anyway, I’ve enjoyed being a fan for the last ten years and look forward to many more victories!


Back in early May I stopped by the finals of the second MADJAM event of the year, called the GDX Super Jam. You can read the full event summary here. At each of the MADJAM events, game developers have as little as 24 hours or as long as a week to build a game from scratch.

MADJAM April 25, 2015

There were 33 participants and 7 games involved in the GDX Super Jam. They had a week, and while some people spent 2-3 hours per day, others spent significantly more. It all paid off though as every team gets thorough, constructive feedback from the judges on how to improve (in addition to some great prizes).

The winning team was Nick Samoli and Jeremy Burns who built a game called “No One Was Here”. The judges praised their music, among other things. I talked to them afterward and while they put in a ton of effort, they wished they had had an artist on the team. Looking forward to seeing what they build next!

MADJAM April 25, 2015

The next MADJAM event is coming up in July at K Days. Participants will have a week and the winners will get admission for the last three days of the festival. Stop by and check out the incredible budding game developers we have here in Edmonton!

Bonus Notes

This was my first year as an attendee of Eat Alberta, after being a member of the organizing team. Sharon and I had a great time, which you can read about here. The organizing team did a great job!

After a few years of helping out with the digital side of the Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts, I have decided to step away from that committee. I enjoyed working with everyone there and am excited to see what they come up with for 2016. I look forward to keeping my attendance streak alive next year! Here’s my recap of the 2015 event.

I’ve got at least one more year to go as a member of the Edmonton Food Council. We announced our newest members a few weeks ago, and we just had our first meeting with the entire group last week. At that meeting we learned a lot about the food processing industry here in Edmonton, very interesting stuff. I feel like we have a decent foundation in place now, so hopefully we can take the Council forward more publicly in the year ahead.

Upcoming August events to check out!

Aside from eating our fill at the Heritage Festival on Saturday, Sharon and I had a relaxing long weekend up at Goose Lake. With a busy August and September ahead, we figured we had to make the most our down time! Here are some of the events we’re working on for the weeks ahead.

What the Truck?! at Borden Park

Our next big What the Truck?! event will take place on Saturday, August 16 in Borden Park from 4pm to 8pm. We struggled a little this year to find a suitable August location, but eventually settled on the newly renovated park.

Borden Park

Over the last three years the City of Edmonton has invested $9 million in Borden Park, and it shows. New sidewalks, benches, picnic tables, sculptures, and a beautiful reflective round pavilion containing washrooms all help to brighten an already lovely green space.

Borden Park

We think the park is the perfect setting for enjoying some great food trucks! Bring the family and hang out in the green space, at the picnic sites, on the walking trails, and elsewhere throughout the park.

You can check out the lineup of trucks here, and check back again next week for the menus. You can RSVP on Facebook and help us spread the word!

PS. Our biggest event of the year is coming up after this one, and will be on September 12 in Churchill Square. Save the date!

97 Street Night Market

The following weekend is another busy one! On Saturday, August 23 from 6pm to 10pm, come down to Chinatown to take in the second annual 97 Street Night Market. The event will feature food, walking tours, entertainment, and of course, vendors!

East Meets West 2014

The event is being organized by Sharon, Maria, and Roxanne, all of whom had a hand in last year’s 97 Street Night Market that took place in the parking lot behind the old post office (where the Royal Alberta Museum is now under construction). This year the event is taking place along 106 Avenue just west of 97 Street.

97 Street Night Market

I’m helping out with the digital stuff, and will be volunteering on the day. You can check out Sharon’s recap of last year’s event here. Then, RSVP on Facebook and tell your friends!

Blink: the ImMACulate Garden Party

The very next day on August 24, we’re excited to be hosting a garden party at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald from 2pm to 5pm! We have reunited the Blink team (myself, Sharon, Hannah, and Steph) to put together what we think will be a fun event in an underutilized space.

Hotel Macdonald

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald’s patio was just named to enRoute magazine’s list of 5 Must-Visit Canadian Patios, but it’s amazing how many Edmontonians still haven’t been there. If you haven’t experienced it for yourself, this event will be a great opportunity to do so! All afternoon, staff will be providing tours of the historic downtown gem which turns 100 years old next July!

Hotel Macdonald

You can expect a signature cocktail, tasty food, entertainment, and of course, an amazing view of the river valley! We’re still working on the details and will have more to share in the days ahead. In the meantime, you can RSVP on Facebook!

UPDATE: Tickets are now on sale for $40, proceeds support the Edmonton Humane Society!

I hope to see you at some or all of these events!

May 2014 Mini Event Recaps!

It has been a busy month, so I haven’t written as much as I’d have liked to. Here are a few small recaps of events I have been to over the last few weeks.

The Yeggies

On May 9, local content producers were celebrated in Edmonton at the second annual Edmonton New Media Awards, affectionately known as The Yeggies. I was thrilled to be a part of the organizing committee for this year and had fun helping to put on a successful show! It was great to see many familiar online faces in person to recognize the work of their peers.

2013 Yeggies

Congratulations to all of the nominees and winners! You can see more photos of the event here. Also check out Lincoln’s video recap here.

interVivos Spring Mentorship Program

I volunteered to be a mentor in the 2014 spring edition of the popular interVivos Mentorship Program. The pairing event took place on May 14. With a speed-dating format, each protege got to spend four minutes with each mentor. At the end of the event, everyone wrote down their top 5 choices. The interVivos folks have since paired us up, and each mentor and protege will meet at least three times over the course of the program.

I have emceed the last couple of pairing events, so it was interesting to be on the other side this time! It’s amazing how quickly four minutes goes by. It felt like you had just barely gotten through introductions before time was up and the protege was moving on to the next mentor!

I know I am not the most experienced mentor, but I have had the good fortune of learning from some incredible Edmontonians over the last few years, and I’m looking forward to paying that forward.

Host Edmonton

I was fortunate enough to receive a media pass for a session at Host Edmonton, which took place from May 22 through May 24 at the Shaw Conference Centre. I decided to attend the afternoon keynote on Friday called “Taking Risks and Setting the Table for the Future” with chef Marc Murphy.

Chef Marc Murphy

I didn’t know what to expect from the session – it turned out to be the story of how Marc got to where he is today. No slides or visuals, just Marc talking. He credited much of his success to having dyslexia, as it forced him to work hard and be willing to take risks. Another key message was, “you can’t be afraid of starting over and picking up the pieces.” Marc started over numerous times throughout his career, learning and growing along the way. As he was telling the story, I found myself wishing we had checked out one of his restaurants when were in New York! Next time.

This was Marc’s first time to Canada, and he seemed to be enjoying Edmonton when I asked him what he thought so far! I hope the other guests felt the same way and left Edmonton with a positive feeling.

I am still unclear about who exactly Host Edmonton was meant for: those in the hospitality industry, foodies, or both? Attendance certainly didn’t match the expectations I had for the event given the high quality marketing and branding. A tighter program and clearer messaging for next year’s event would both be positive changes. And possibly even some different price points. Great to see EEDC experimenting with some new approaches and initiatives, however!

What the Truck?!

On Saturday, May 24 we held our first What the Truck?! event of the season. It took place on 104 Street from 5-9pm and featured 12 trucks. I think it’s safe to say the event was a success – perhaps too successful, as the lineups were quite long that night! I myself spent nearly an hour in the line for S’WICH, but it was worth it.

What the Truck?! on 104 Street

We know the lineups were long, and while we’re working to have more trucks on hand for our next event, lines cannot be entirely avoided. On the plus side, it was great to see so many people chatting and enjoying the sense of community that comes with one of our events. I was also pleased to hear that downtown restaurants and businesses benefited greatly from the crowds we were able to attract into the area!

You can check out more of my photos from the event here (and more from Dave here). Save the date for our second event of the season: Friday, June 13 in Old Strathcona from 5-9pm!

RISE Awards

Last night I attended the 11th annual RISE Awards, courtesy of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. The gala event took place at the Edmonton Expo Centre and featured a fancy stage setup by Production World (they seem to be at every event lately!). The program went quite long, but featured some great entertainment and an inspiring keynote by Zahra Al-Harazi. It was also fun to see former mayor Stephen Mandel enjoying himself up on stage!

Seven awards were handed out:

  • Oliver Kamau won the Community Leadership, Immigrant Award
  • Wildman Institute won the Community Leadership, Non-Immigrant Award
  • Linar Dahir Waliyi won the Youth Achievement Award
  • Erica Vela Namsechi won the Arts & Culture Award
  • Enbridge Pipelines Inc. won the Welcoming Workplace Award
  • All Weather Windows won the Workplace Innovation Award
  • Dr. Man-Joe Watt won the Lifetime Achievement Award

Congratulations to all!

Up Next…

Tonight, along with journalist, rapper, and cat-lover Omar Mouallem, I am hosting a poverty simulation with the United Way. I attended the first one in Edmonton back in November 2012 and found it highly educational, so I was thrilled to be asked by the United Way to encourage other young Edmontonians to participate. As you may know there is now a Mayor’s Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty in Edmonton, so I think this is a great time to be getting others involved.

This weekend I am attending the Good 100, “an annual two day gathering that brings together a diverse group of 100 Edmontonians involved in good work in their communities.” The event takes place at Rundle Park and sounds like it’s going to be an intense but rewarding couple of days. I’m looking forward to meeting some new people and to learning about some interesting local projects!

On Monday I’m doing a session at the 66th annual IPAC National Conference. IPAC is the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, and my session is entitled Sparking the City’s Creativity with Technology. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the interesting things happening here in Edmonton with public administrators from around the country!

There are so many other exciting events coming up, you can tell that we’re into the summer swing of things now.

Downtown Edmonton’s Super Saturday

If you’re in Edmonton this Saturday, downtown is without a doubt the place to be. Some of us have been calling it “Super Saturday” because there are just so many things happening all day long!

Here’s a list of some of the activities you should check out:

TEDxEdmonton: Activating Ideas Citadel Theatre 8:30am – 5:30pm  
DECL Pancake Breakfast 4th Street Promenade 8:30am – 11:00am
City Market 4th Street Promenade 9:00am – 3:00pm
Edmonton Pride Parade 102 Avenue, from 107 Street to 99 Street 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Sprouts New Play Festival for Kids Stanley Milner Library 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Bikeology’s Heritage Bike Ride Ezio Faraone Park 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Al Fresco Block Party 4th Street Promenade Noon – 11:00pm
What the Truck?! 4th Street Promenade 5:00pm – 11:00pm
Mercer Warehouse Street Superparty 4th Street Promenade 7:00pm – 11:00pm
Al Fresco After Party Halo Lounge 9:00pm – 2:30am

Tickets are still available for TEDxEdmonton, so get yours here. You can read my recap of last year’s event here, that should give you a sense of what to expect. DECL’s Pancake Breakfast is a toonie breakfast, so bring your coins! For the City Market, the tasting area of Al Fresco, and for What the Truck?! you’ll need cash, so come prepared.

And since this post is about downtown, here’s an amazing panorama from Hugh Lee (78 images stitched together, taken from the top of the Crowne Plaza Hotel):

Downtown from the Crowne

Saturday is going to be an amazing day. Let’s hope the weather cooperates, but even if it doesn’t, bring an umbrella and enjoy!

The Past, Present, and Future of Food Truck Bylaws & Guidelines in Edmonton

Well it was bound to happen sooner or later – Edmonton has joined the long list of cities that have had disputes between restaurants and food trucks. As you’ve probably heard, Grandma Lee’s in Petroleum Plaza has complained about Drift, one of our city’s most popular food trucks. It’s an attractive media story as we head into summer and that has contributed to the issue becoming a bigger deal than is necessary. On the plus side, the situation has highlighted the need for a review of the Street Vending Program.

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona

I have been learning about and researching the bylaws and guidelines and how everything works for quite a while now, and this seems like a good opportunity to share what I know!

Why are food trucks allowed in Edmonton?

The Traffic Safety Act (TSA) sets out the basic rules for streets in our province. Among other things, the act outlines how the Alberta Transportation Safety Board should work, the rules for operator’s licenses and vehicle registrations, speed limits and other rules of the road, and the powers of municipalities with respect to streets. Specifically, section 13(1) states that municipalities can pass bylaws that govern the use of highways under its direction, provided they are not inconsistent with the TSA. Here in Edmonton that is bylaw 5590 (Traffic Bylaw, PDF) and in Calgary, that is 26M96 (Traffic Bylaw) and 20M88 (Street Bylaw).

A useful way to think about it is this: All streets in Alberta are governed by the basic rules set forward by the province. In cities like Edmonton and Calgary, bylaws enable each municipality to manage its own streets, building on top of those basic province-wide rules.

In Calgary, the Street Bylaw states in section 5(a) that you cannot sell things on streets. Section 5(b) outlines some exceptions to this, including pushcarts and ice cream trucks, but does not specifically mention food trucks. In Edmonton, section 67 is far less specific, and simply states that you must have a permit in order to sell goods and services. It also grants authority to the City Manager to basically bring the bylaws to life through policies, procedures, guidelines, and enforcement.

That’s why Edmonton has been allowed to have food trucks – our Traffic Bylaw enables permits for selling goods and services on city streets, and it does not specify any restrictions as to what those goods and/or services might be. As long as you have a valid permit, you’re good to go. In Calgary, you’d need to get a letter from the Director of Roads unless you fall under one of the allowed exceptions. Obviously that’s not a very scalable solution, hence the pilot that is underway in Calgary.

How does the City of Edmonton manage food trucks?

Nearly thirty years ago the Street Vending Program was created. According to a City report from 2005, it “was initiated by City Council to aid in the revitalization and enrichment of the downtown core.” Parks & Recreation was originally responsible for the program, though it has also called Community Services home. Currently responsibility falls to Sustainable Development.

The program today consists of the coordinator, the application forms, and the guidelines. You can download the latest package here. If you look at the package, you’ll find that the Street Vending Program deals with all kinds of vendors, not just food trucks. Hotdog carts, ice cream trucks, and any other vendor wanting to sell things on city streets must have four things: a business license (specifically a Travelling or Temporary Food Sales license), a health permit, a minimum of $2 million general liability insurance, and a vending permit. In order to get a vending permit, you need to talk to the Street Vending Coordinator and you need to follow the guidelines. There are slightly different guidelines for sidewalk vendors as opposed to street vendors, and altogether different guidelines for ice cream trucks.

Until very recently, the coordinator was a seasonal position, which means that throughout most of the winter there was no staff person at the City working on street vending. That meant that there was limited time to make improvements to the guidelines or changes to the program, which is part of the reason why they have remained largely the same for years.

What are the guidelines for food trucks in Edmonton?

There are a number of guidelines that apply to all kinds of vendors. For example, vendors are only allowed to operate from 7am until 11pm. Permits apply to a single location only – if you want multiple locations, you need to have multiple permits. Vendors must adhere to a code of conduct and “conduct themselves in a professional manner”. Vending units must not be left unattended, vendors cannot sell illegal or counterfeit products, etc.

In addition to the general street vending guidelines, there are roughly fifteen bullet points under the section for street vendors. Most of these are fairly straightforward, including things like “all existing parking restrictions apply” and “overhead canopies or vertically operating doors must not obstruct or hinder safe pedestrian traffic”. I encourage you to read the document for yourself as it isn’t very long. I’ll highlight the two points that deal with disputes between existing businesses and vendors:

  • Permission will not be granted to Vendors where a conflict with an existing business is evident.
  • Where a conflict arises with an existing business, the Sustainable Development Department reserves the right to relocate the contentious Vendor.

Nowhere else in the guidelines does the topic of conflicts come up. There is no section on how such complaints are handled, nor is there any information on how to appeal a complaint. Under the current guidelines, if you’re a vendor that someone has complained about, you’re automatically labeled “contentious” and there’s not much you can do about it. There are no rules to fall back on, and there is no process to follow to try to resolve the issue.

When was the Street Vending Program last reviewed and updated?

While minor modifications have been made over the years, mostly with respect to title and department name changes but also fees, the current street vending guidelines are largely the same as they were in 2005 (the oldest copy I was able to find). And according to a report from that year, the “program has not had an Administrative or City Council initiated review”. In other words, they haven’t been formally reviewed since they were created!

That report came about because then-Councillor Michael Phair received a complaint about street vending and “especially concerning vendors that sell food” so he made an inquiry to Administration. They brought a report back to the Community Services Committee on September 1, which outlined how the program operates. The committee voted to have Administration bring back a second report comparing the program with “best practices in cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver.” That report came back on November 4 and outlined some of the things other cities do with respect to street vending. Here are the two key points from that report:

“Community Services Department surveyed service providers directly and asked a series of questions via telephone with counterparts from Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, New York, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle.”

“After looking at the street vending practices for ten municipalities, it is concluded that Edmonton’s program equals or exceeds that of the other municipalities.”

As a result no further action was taken, and the program has continued the same way ever since.

Why should the guidelines be reviewed and updated now?

Put simply, a lot has changed in the last thirty years since the Street Vending Program was created! Especially in the last five years, interest in food trucks has exploded across North America and expectations about how such businesses operate has changed very quickly. In 2005, the program had about 40 vendors in total. This year, there are 55 vendors (that number includes food trucks, ice cream trucks, carts, and all other sidewalk vendors). That’s not a large jump, but we are seeing new food trucks joining the fray and I expect that trend will continue.

More important than the quantity of vendors is the type of vendor. Back in 2005, we didn’t really have curbside food trucks like Drift. Now we do, and we should expect more! I think there are significant differences between a sidewalk vendor and a food truck, yet the guidelines for the most part don’t reflect that. Whereas it might make sense to restrict a sidewalk vendor’s permit to a single location, the whole point of a food truck is that it is mobile and can move around.

The food trucks of today are serving a completely different kind of product than mobile carts have in the past, and that has an impact on the program too. Sandwiches from Drift are certainly competition for brick-and-mortar restaurants, so it’s no surprise that some disputes will arise. The current street vending program does not outline any process for dealing with such disputes.

The opportunity to realize Council’s original vision for the Street Vending Program – “to aid in the revitalization and enrichment of the downtown core” – has never been stronger than it is today. If we want food trucks to be viable and sustainable into the future, we need to update the program.

What changes should be made?

This is a topic that will need further discussion, but we could do a lot worse than to look to Calgary for guidance. Because their pilot program is so new, they have been able to capture many of the key points that differentiate food trucks from other vendors and those are reflected in the program’s guidelines.

Note that we don’t need to change our bylaws, just the Street Vending Program. Changing the bylaws is a much more difficult process that would require approval by City Council. Changing the Street Vending Program can be much simpler. Remember it’s the bylaws that make food trucks possible but it’s the Street Vending Program that outlines how food trucks are managed and should operate.

Here are some ideas for positive changes to Edmonton’s Street Vending Program:

  • Grant food trucks a permit that applies to multiple locations or a large area, rather than requiring one permit per location. In Calgary they have the concept of “roll zones” and “no-roll zones” which outline where the trucks can and cannot go.
  • Bring the cost of the permit in line with other cities. In Calgary, food trucks pay a flat fee of $700 per year that is not dependent on actual street usage.
  • Make it easier for trucks to serve in the evening. This could be accomplished by establishing some sort of evening roaming rules, by extending the valid operating times past 11pm, or both. In Calgary, food trucks may operate until 3am.
  • Get rid of the restriction that only one truck may operate on a street at a time. We know that food trucks are often more successful when there are many together than when they are going solo, as long as they are complementary, and we know that food truck operators all talk and already team up from time to time!
  • Clearly outline where food trucks are allow to operate. Calgary’s guidelines clearly state that food trucks cannot operate within 25 metres of any restaurant during its operational hours. (Note: Drift is a lot further from Grandma Lee’s than 25 metres!)
  • Outline a process for dealing with complaints. Food trucks need to have some certainty about their business, and if the processes by which they may be asked to move is completely opaque, it’s hard to have that certainty.
  • Revamp the evaluation process for issuing permits. The current “process” is highly subjective and often relies upon the food truck’s relationship with the street vending coordinator. That leads to inconsistent treatment of food trucks, and in some cases, inconsistent fees.
  • Create a proper website. For the longest time, all the Street Vending page said was to call the coordinator and it gave a phone number. At least now it links to the application package, but we could obviously do so much more.

The good news is that discussions regarding these changes have already been taking place, and I anticipate we’ll make significant progress this year. I think if we can make some of these changes a reality, we’ll have a much stronger vending program into the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that perhaps Sustainable Development is not the right home for the Street Vending Program. Sustainable Development is responsible for business licenses, property management, and economic development strategies, among other things, but food trucks in particular need more than that. They also deal with Transportation, Transit, and other departments. I would recommend folding the Street Vending Program into the Civic Events Office, which already coordinates with the various City departments on a regular basis.

If we’re willing to put even more effort in, I think there are significant opportunities to once again have Edmonton’s street vending program be the standard by which other cities are measured. Here’s just one example. Food trucks are different lengths and so are parking stalls. Why not release a dataset of all the parking stalls in Edmonton, or at least those in food-truck-friendly neighbourhoods that includes the location, length, price and other information? It would then be relatively easy for a food truck to scan for potential locations at which to park. We’ve already got the open data catalogue and the parking meter data exists somewhere, so with a bit of effort we could make something like this a reality.

What’s next for Drift and Grandma Lee’s?

As you might have heard, Drift was granted an extension at their current 108 Street location until Friday. They are supposed to file an appeal by then, whatever that means. There is nothing in the guidelines that outlines how exactly Drift is supposed to respond to the situation. Furthermore, the advantage is clearly with Grandma Lee’s – the City can basically tell Drift that they have to move and there’s nothing they can do about it.

I would rather see businesses like Grandma Lee’s choose to compete rather than complain. With a brick-and-mortar location, a restaurant should be able to offer an experience that no food truck can match. Furthermore, we know from our experience with What the Truck?! that having food trucks in an area often draws more people to surrounding businesses, not less. Unfortunately, as Colby Cosh astutely identified last week, Grandma Lee’s has chosen rent-seeking over delivering a better experience, and that means everybody loses.

Drift Sandwich Mob

I hope Drift is not forced to move, but if they are, then I hope it ultimately results in improved guidelines that clearly stipulate how such disputes will be handled in the future. If we want to make it easier for new food trucks to open up in Edmonton – and I think we do – then we need to make the rules clear and consistent.

What’s next for food trucks in Edmonton?

I think Edmonton’s existing food trucks will become even more successful over time as they build up a larger and larger client base and as the food truck movement really takes hold here in Edmonton. We’ll also see new food trucks launch and enjoy success, such as The Act which entered service on Monday. More food trucks means more pedestrian activity and vibrancy on the streets and that ultimately will make Edmonton a better city in which to live. Unless we somehow take a massive step backward, I don’t see any other outcome for food trucks in Edmonton!

By reviewing and updating the Street Vending Program, we can create an environment for food trucks that better reflects the realities of today, and more importantly, better positions us for success in the future. It’ll take some work, but I think it’ll be worth it!

Recap: Truck Stop

On Thursday we held the first ever Truck Stop – a smaller, lunchtime version of What the Truck?! inspired by the food truck pods of Portland. The colder weather is coming and that means most of Edmonton’s food trucks will be closed until next year, so we wanted to try to extract the most out of our fall season as possible. Five trucks parked on 102A Avenue in front of City Hall to serve lunch from 11am until 2pm: Bo Thai, Drift, Eva Sweet, Fat Franks, and Smokehouse BBQ.

Truck Stop

Considering it was a cold day, we were quite pleased with the turnout! Lots of people even took advantage of the seating available – next time we’ll try to get the heat lamps and bonfires going! Churchill Square is a gigantic venue so we were happy to be located on the avenue instead, though the square itself did get busier after noon, with the final zumba class of the year. And of course there was a lot of foot traffic, with people walking to and from their offices.

Enjoying Truck Stop
Photo by Brittney

The vendors all did quite well, though Smokehouse BBQ seemed to be the most popular. Normally located in Nisku, they received a warm welcome from Edmontonians, selling more during the three hours of Truck Stop than they would have over four days in their usual spot! Their food was tasty – we had the three rib mac and cheese and the bacon bomb sandwich.

Smokehouse BBQ
The line-up at Smokehouse BBQ

Smokehouse BBQ
Bacon bomb and three rib mac & cheese

We don’t have any more What the Truck?! events planned for 2011, but we are going to be doing some planning for next year in conjunction with the vendors. Clearly the demand is strong! Thanks to everyone who came out to Truck Stop for lunch. Thanks also to the City and the vendors for helping us make it happen on such short notice. We’re looking forward to future food truck extravaganzas!

You can read Sharon’s recap here and you can see the rest of my photos here. Brittney’s photoset is here!