October 9, 2014 11:55 am

Want more food trucks in Toronto? Vote, says Caplansky’s Deli owner


WATCH ABOVE: Zane Caplansky, owner of Caplansky’s Deli and food truck, on the politics of food trucks in Toronto and how Toronto stacks up to other global cities.

TORONTO – Zane Caplansky has a simple message for foodies in the city – if you want more food trucks in Toronto, vote.

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“It’s all about politics, it’s all about voting,” said the owner of Caplansky’s Deli on College St. and ‘Thunderin’ Thelma‘ – a food truck he launched in 2011.

Caplansky is an advocate in the city for regulations that would allow food trucks to operate freely.

“What we’re trying to do is get city council to embrace food trucks as a great use for our city streets and bring a vibrant street food culture to Toronto,” Caplansky told Global News.

With weeks to go in the race for city hall, the restaurateur is encouraging residents to ask their candidates where they stand on food trucks in the city. “Ask your candidates how they feel, ask the mayoral candidates how they feel about food trucks – and go and vote. If you don’t vote, you’re going to have to live with the decisions that are made by the people who do vote,” he said.

In many ways, Toronto has fallen behind cities like Portland, New York, even Hamilton, Ont., in fostering a vibrant food truck culture.

In August 2013, the city launched a pilot project, spearheaded by city councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon and Josh Colle. The project allowed food trucks to operate in five parks around the city – previously they could only operate in private parking lots and at special events, often with a large rental fee attached. It was the councillors’ hope that the pilot project would evolve into a permanent program.

“Animating our public spaces and bringing diversity to our culinary options will only add to the vibrancy of our terrific city,” said McMahon at the time.

This April, city council voted to amend the rules surrounding food truck permits. The changes, which went into effect on May 15, allow food truck vendors to operate on city streets, but there are strict rules to follow.

All food truck operators must have a Mobile Food Vending Permit, to the tune of $5,066.69.

Truck vendors may operate on major and minor arterial streets at any open pay-and-display stations, so long as they pay for parking and stay no longer than three hours. Only two food trucks are allowed on a block at a time.

Trucks can’t operate within 50 metres from an “open and operating restaurant.” And this, said Caplansky, essentially amounts to banning food trucks in the downtown core.

“Fifty metres between a restaurant and a food truck essentially bans food trucks from the entirety of downtown Toronto,” he said.

“If Toronto wants food trucks, which the city says it does, they have to re-do that and they have to give food trucks equal and open access to the city of Toronto,” he said.

Why Toronto has been slow to change has to do a lot with fear, said Caplansky – fear that food trucks will hurt the restaurant industry in particular.

“There’s a sense of fear that food trucks will damage the restaurant industry, even though there’s no evidence of that anywhere else in the world,” he said.

“Right now we have a bureaucracy at city hall, who will take their cue from the politicians, and we have the restaurant owners and the food truck owners going head-to-head,” he said.

But he said that as someone who owns both a brick-and-mortar restaurant and a food truck, he wants to tell restaurant owners they have nothing to fear. “And if you can’t beat them, join them – buy a food truck yourself, it’s a great business model.”

Where the mayoral candidates stand

All three of Toronto’s main mayoral candidates have come out in favour, in some form or another, of relaxing the rules surrounding food trucks in the city.

In April, John Tory said he supported changes to the food truck regulations, saying it’s time the city got on with it. “It’s time today to take the final step of saying yes to something that they should have said yes to a number of years ago,” Tory said.

Olivia Chow also supported the motion to expand the food truck industry, calling it a “win-win situation” that would bring people out on the streets of Toronto.

Doug Ford said he was in support of food trucks, but was concerned about their proximity to brick-and-mortar restaurants that pay high taxes. Ford was absent from the council vote on the permit amendments.

When the new permit rules came into effect the city committed to reviewing the changes in April 2015.

You can catch Zane Caplansky as a judge on the new show, Food Truck Face Off, which premieres this Sunday on Food Network (Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT).

© 2014 Shaw Media

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