WINNIPEG – If you head out to Broadway at lunchtime, you’ll find hundreds of hungry customers waiting to take a bite out of rolling restaurants.
The Red Ember is Winnipeg’s, and possibly North America’s, largest food truck. During the peak of the lunch hour, there are four chefs and one cashier working inside the red-steel and glass behemoth that towers over the sidewalk.
Owner Steffen Zinn spends four days a week out on Broadway and another two selling his pizzas at the St. Norbert Farmers Market.
“It’s about buying and selling local,” said Zinn. “I can walk in to the market and buy my tomatoes, then head back to the truck and sell the finished product to those shopping around the market.”
Winnipeg may have been a little late to pick up on the food truck party, but now there are more setting up shop along city streets than ever before.
Three years ago, food trucks were still relatively new to the food scene; now there are dozens fighting for customers.
As of June 16th, the city had issued 123 licenses and had another 25 applications on the wait list, but before vendors can get a license they must get a permit from the province.
This procedure will be fully streamlined by spring 2015, when the province takes over both the permitting and licencing of the units.
The annual license will set owners back $391 a year; a minimal cost when you look at how much actually building and getting the trucks on the streets can cost.
“It cost me around $127,000,” said Zinn.
Winnipeg’s winter weather has a big affect on the food truck business.
With the long and frigid conditions, if a truck tries to start its season too early, it runs the risk of freezing pipes and losing more money.
“We are doing a lot more festivals this year; trying to extend the season and make as much money throughout the summer as possible,” said Alex Goertzen, owner of Little Bones Wings.
Goertzen was one of the first to open up three years ago and has been able to expand his business in to a year round eatery after opening up a Little Bones Wings restaurant last summer.
Most of the downtown trucks can be found jockeying for a spot to set up around 9 am. With no assigned spots, it becomes first come, first serve.
A spokesperson with the city said they have no plans to develop assigned parking for food trucks.
Currently bylaws stipulate only food trucks may re-meter as many times as they need throughout the day.