Burlington associations want annual food truck festival to move away from Spencer Smith Park

The Burlington Food Truck Festival is set to hit Spencer Smith Park in downtown Burlington on the weekend of July 15. Global BC

The head of the Burlington Downtown Business Association (BDBA) says a third-party event that’s set up shop in the city for the past five years is the “wrong event at the wrong time.”

Executive director Brian Dean says the Burlington Food Truck Festival, set to run at Spencer Smith Park in July, is going to take away much-needed business from the densest cluster of restaurants in the core trying to recover from lost business during the pandemic.

“Well, we’re not happy,” Dean told 900 CHML’s Hamilton Today.

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“This would be the first one that would happen post-pandemic … and we are intimately aware that our hospitality industry downtown is recovering.”

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Dean and a delegation from the Burlington Restaurant Association (BRA) first made their case to the city at the April 7 environment, infrastructure and community services committee meeting.

The group argued the event, which drew an estimated 27,000 last summer, offered a multichannel of foods that took away from similar offerings found at brick and mortar locations in the city’s core.

They contest the associations and a number of area business owners in the downtown should have been consulted before the festival was approved.

Craig Kowalchuk from the BRA told councillors local venders have had “many challenges” amid COVID-19 with government-directed shutdowns coupled with labour shortages and the rising cost of taxes, insurance, heat and hydro.

“The ongoing challenge is that basically the food truck can roll in and roll out and if they grab 100 customers from a restaurant or a cluster of restaurants, it’s impactful.”

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When Ward 2 Coun. Lisa Kearns asked what the group wanted the city to do, Dean suggested the event “find another home somewhere else in Burlington.”

“So essentially … it’s the same offering that you would find in a brick and mortar restaurant,” Dean told Global News.

“No different at all with the exceptional advantage they have of rolling in, taking customers, and rolling out without paying the same taxes or having the same overhead as our bricks and mortar. We think that’s patently unfair.”

The group says the distinct difference with Burlington’s legendary Ribfest – which also resides in Spencer Smith on the Labour Day weekend – is that it only offers “one channel” of foods: ribs.

That event saw as many as 180,000 over four days in 2016.

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Organizers behind the food truck festival said their piece weeks later during a council meeting, suggesting the event is like any other at the park that brings large crowds and awareness to Burlington.

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“It’s our opinion that everyone benefits from these large groups of people, whether it’s from the food truck festival or Ribfest or Sound of Music,” Ben Freeman with Canadian Food Truck Festivals said in the April 19 meeting.

“These all have great benefits to the city. And obviously, moving forward, we want to make sure that it’s a positive partnership and a positive experience for everybody.”

The festival is expected to run July 15 through 17, despite the objections. More than 30 food trucks are expected with organizers hoping to attract more than 100,000 people.

City staff are expected to engage the BDBA, BRA and festival organizers in the future to discuss the matter.

Dean hopes residents and visitors to Burlington will keep the shop local ethic alive by spending food and libation dollars at a place where they will be circulated back into the local economy.

“We’d ask patrons to make a choice when they get here, the food truck or a bricks and mortar, because it’s the latter group that’s going to employ your kids,” Dean said.


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